Withholding Tax on Dividend Equivalent Payments - FAQs

Background

Beginning January 1, 2017, new IRS regulations will impose U.S. withholding taxes on US dividend equivalent payments to non-US persons holding derivative positions on US equities. Previously, US withholding tax was not imposed on these payments. The regulations require intermediaries, such as us, to act as withholding agents and collect US tax on behalf of the IRS. An overview of the tax, how it’s determined and the products impacted is provided below.
 
Overview
What is the purpose of the regulation?
The regulation derives from Section 871(m) of the Internal Revenue Code and is intended to harmonize the US tax treatment imposed on non-U.S. persons with respect to dividends on U.S. stock and dividend equivalent payments paid on derivative contracts that replicate (to a high degree) ownership of such stock.
 
An example of this would be a total return swap having IBM as its underlying.  A non-U.S. person holding an IBM stock position would be subject to a 30% US withholding tax (reduced by treaty) on dividend payments. On the other hand prior to the implementation of Section 871(m), a non-U.S. person holding long exposure to IBM on the swap could receive payments equivalent to the dividends without imposition of U.S. withholding tax. This was the case even though the payments replicated similar economic exposure. Section 871(m) now considers those ‘dividend equivalent payments’ subject to US withholding tax.
 
What is a dividend equivalent payment?
A dividend equivalent payment is any gross amount that references the payment of a dividend on a U.S. equity and that is used to compute any net amount transferred to or from the long party, even if the long party make a net payment to the short party or the net payment is zero. Accordingly, such payments would include not only an actual payment in lieu of a dividend but also an estimated dividend payment that is implicitly taken into account in computing one or more of the terms of the transaction, including interest rate, notional amount or purchase price.
 
In the case of a listed call option on a U.S. stock, for example, the holder of the call is not entitled to receive a dividend unless the option is exercised prior to the dividend ex-date. Nonetheless, the premium paid by the holder to purchase the option implicitly takes into account the present value of the expected dividends over the option term.[1] Since this factor serves to lower the payment from the option buyer to the seller, it is viewed as a dividend equivalent payment potentially subject to the rules.
 
Who is subject to the dividend equivalent withholding tax?
The tax applies to qualifying positions held in an account of a non-U.S. taxpayer. It does not apply to U.S. taxpayers. Accounts of non-U.S. taxpayers generally are evidenced by the submission of an IRS Form W-8 and can include the following account types: individual, joint, organization and trust.
 
What derivative instruments potentially are subject to the dividend equivalent withholding tax?
The regulations adopt a two-part test to determine if a derivative instrument is subject to the rules. First, the derivative instruments must reference the dividend on a U.S. equity security. Examples include:
-          equity options
-          regulated single stock futures
-          regulated index futures and options on index futures
-          structured and exchange traded notes
-          CFD contracts
-          convertible bonds
-          securities lending transactions
-          derivatives on custom baskets and
-          warrants
 
If the underlying position is a U.S. equity. The exchange upon which the instrument is traded and the identity of the counterparty do not affect the application of the rules. That is, a derivative can be subject to the rules, whether it is exchange listed or over the counter or trades in the United States or overseas.
 
Second, the derivative instrument must substantially replicate the economics of the underlying U.S. equity at the time of issuance. The rules look to delta (for simple contracts) and a substantially equivalency test (for complex contracts) to make this determination.
 
Delta is a correlation measurement that computes the ratio of the change in the fair market value of the derivative instrument to a change in the fair market value of the U.S. equity referenced by the derivative.  In general, for purposes of this regulation, delta is only determined once over the life of the derivative instrument – at the time it is ‘issued’. It is not recomputed as the fair market value of the underlying security changes or when the derivative instrument is re-sold in the secondary market.
 
For most contracts, the rules are as follows:
·         Pre-2017 – a derivative instrument issued prior to January 1, 2017 (i.e., anything held by a customer with us on December 31, 2016) is not subject to the new withholding tax rules.
·         2017 - a derivative instrument issued in 2017 is potentially subject to the new withholding tax regime if the delta at the time of issuance is 1.0.
·         After 2017 – a derivative instrument issued after December 31, 2017 is potentially subject to the new withholding tax rules if the delta at the time of issuance is 0.8 or greater.
If the derivative is classified as “complex,” the delta test does not apply and instead the substantial equivalency test applies. 
 
So When Is a Derivative Instrument Issued?
Identified when a derivative instrument is issued is very important. It determines if the instrument is subject to the rules (pre-2017 issued instruments are not) and when the delta computation is made. In general, an instrument is ‘issued’ when it comes into existence, its inception date or date of original issuance. Instruments are not issued when re-sold in the secondary market.
 
As a result, there are differences in the issuance rules for listed options, futures, other exchange traded products and over-the-counter products. For example, a listed option traded on a US exchange, generally, is not issued when first listed by an exchange as available for trading. Instead, the listed option is issued (delta determined) when the option is entered into by the customer. On the other hand, for transferable derivatives, such as exchange traded notes, convertible bonds and warrants, they would be issued only when first sold. The delta determined at that time would carryover when sold to a subsequent purchaser. 
 
Are There Any Exceptions?
The rules do provide limited exceptions to withholding. These include:
•        a derivative instrument that references a “qualified index” - generally, a passive broad publicly available index on U.S. equities such as the S&P 500, NASDAQ 100 or Russell 2000.
•        a derivative instrument that references an index with little or no U.S. equity composition – such as the Hang Seng Index.
•        if the dividend equivalent payment (or portion thereof) would not be subject to U.S. withholding tax if the non-US person owned the underlying security directly. This most often will occur for derivative instruments on U.S. mutual funds, REITs and exchange traded funds that pay ‘dividends’ which are re-characterized as capital gain distributions or returns of capital.
 
Can you provide some examples of when the rules will or will not apply?
•        Customer purchases single stock futures on IBM on January 2, 2017. The delta of the future is 1.0. The future is subject to the rule.
•        Customer purchases a deep in the money OCC listed option on IBM on December 28, 2016. The delta of the future is 1.0. The option is not subject to the rule as it was issued prior to 2017.
•        Customer purchases index future on a narrow based index on January 15, 2017. Assume the index is not a ‘qualified index.’ The future is subject to the rule.
•        Customer purchases an exchange trade note that tracks U.S. equities on January 2, 2017 with a delta of 1.0. The note was issued on July 1, 2016. The option is not subject to the rule as it was issued prior to 2017
 
How is the dividend equivalent withholding computed?
If the derivative instrument is subject to the new Section 871(m), a dividend equivalent payment with respect to such instrument equals the per share dividend on the underlying U.S. equity, multiplied by the number of underlying shares referenced by the instrument, multiplied by the delta (e.g., an option contract delivering 100 shares of a stock paying $1.00 dividend and having a delta of .80 would be subject to a tax based upon $80.00 dividend equivalent payment).
 
In the case of a complex derivative contract, the dividend equivalent will be equal to the per share dividend on the underlying, multiplied by the contract’s hedge equivalent to the underlying as calculated when the contract was issued.
 
How are contracts combined for purposes of determining delta?
Starting in 2018, customers who purchase derivative instrument such as a long call having a delta below the .80 threshold and selling a put on the same underlying and same share quantity within 2 days of one another will have those positions combined for the purpose of determining whether the threshold has been exceeded (e.g., the purchase of a long call with a delta of 0.60 coupled with the sale of a put with a delta of .40 would result in a long delta of 1.0).
 
In 2017, only over-the-counter instruments are potentially subject to combination to create a delta 1.0 instrument. 
 
What information do we provide to inform clients about impacted positions?
To minimize exposure to the withholding tax, we intend to provide a TWS warning message will be provided when non-U.S. persons create an order that could generate the tax. This will give customers the option of canceling the order to avoid potential withholding or submitting the order and possibly paying the tax when a dividend occurs. Customers may avoid the potential withholding tax by not owning the derivative on the applicable withholding date (i.e., generally the dividend Record Date).
 
 

IMPORTANT NOTE: We do not provide tax, legal or financial advice. Each customer must speak with the customer’s own advisors to determine the impact that the Section 871(m) rules may have on the customer’s trading activity.


[1] While the holder of the call option does not receive a dividend, the premium paid by the holder for the option implicitly takes expected dividends into account (i.e., because the stock price is expected to drop by the amount of the dividend on the ex-dividend date, cash dividends imply lower call premiums).

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