This article continues a series of articles on the constructive ownership rules of the IRC (Internal Revenue Code) §318. Today, we will discuss corporate attribution rules, even more specifically the §318 downstream corporate attribution rules.
§318 Downstream Corporate Attribution: Two Types of Attribution
There are two types of §318 corporate attribution rules: downstream and upstream. Under the downstream corporate attribution rules, stocks owned by a corporation are attributed to this corporation’s shareholders. The upstream corporate attribution rules are exactly the opposite: stocks (in another corporation) owned by shareholders are attributed to the corporation. As stated above, this article will focus on the downstream attribution rules; the upstream attribution rules will be covered in a future article.
§318 Downstream Corporate Attribution: Main Rule
Under §318(a)(2)(C), if a person owns, directly and indirectly, 50% or more in value of the stock “such person shall be considered as owning the stock owned, directly or indirectly, by or for such corporation, in that proportion which the value of the stock which such person so owns bears to the value of all the stock in such corporation.”
There are two critical parts of this downstream attribution rule: 50% threshold and proportionality. Let’s discuss each part in more detail.
§318 Downstream Corporate Attribution: 50% Threshold
A person must own directly or indirectly 50% or more of the stock value of a corporation in order for the §318 corporate attribution rules to apply. Under Treas. Reg. §1.318-1(b)(3), in determining whether the 50% threshold is satisfied, one must aggregate all stocks that the person actually and constructively owns.
The valuation of stocks should be determined in reference to the relative rights of the outstanding stock of a corporation. All restrictions, such as limitations on transferability, should be considered. On the other hand, the presence or absence of control of the corporation is irrelevant. This means that the value of stocks may differ from the voting power associated with these stocks.
Let’s use the following fact scenario to demonstrate the potential complexity of stock valuation: C, a C-corporation, has two classes of stocks – 100 shares of common stock with a value of $1 each and 50 shares of preferred stock with a value of $1 each (i.e. the total value of common stock is $100 and the total value of preferred stock is $50) – with only common stocks having voting rights; A owns 60 shares of common stock and 10 shares of preferred stock (i.e. his common stock is worth $60 and his preferred stock $10); C owns all of the outstanding shares of another corporation, X. The issue is how many shares of X should be attributed to A?
The answer is none. A does not constructively own any of X’s shares because his total value of C’s stocks is below 50% (the value of his stocks is $60 + $10 = $70, but the total value of C’s stocks is $100 + $50 = $150). The fact that A controls C through his 60% voting power is irrelevant.
§318 Downstream Corporate Attribution: Proportionality
As it was stated above, if the 50% corporate ownership threshold is met, then the shareholder will be considered a constructive owner of shares owned by the corporation in another corporation in proportion to the value of his stock.
While this looks like a straightforward rule, there is one problem. Whether the 50% threshold is satisfied should be determined by the combination of actual and constructive stock ownership. Does it mean that the attribution of corporate stocks under §318 should be in proportion to the value of both actual and constructive ownership combined? Or, does the proportionality of attribution based solely on the actual stock ownership in the holding corporation?
As of the time of this writing, the IRS still has not issued any guidance on this problem. Hence, taking either position is fine by an attorney as long as it is reasonable under the facts.
§318 Downstream Corporate Attribution: S-Corporations
It should be emphasized that the §318 downstream corporate attribution rules do not apply S-corporations with respect to attribution of corporate stock between an S-corporation and its shareholders. Rather, in such cases, the S-corporation is treated as a partnership and its shareholders as partners. See §318(a)(5)(E). Hence, generally, corporate stocks owned by an S-corporation are attributed on a proportionate basis even to shareholders who own less than 50% of the value of the S-corporation stock.
Keep in mind, however, that the usual constructive ownership rules for corporations and shareholders apply for the purpose of determination of whether any person owns stock in an S-corporation.
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