In my role at SoftLayer, I am asked by a number of people for our financial forecasts. Fortunately, we know our business well enough that our expectations for one year ahead have proven to be on target. For example, in December 2008, we told our bankers to expect 2009 net income (profit) to grow 254% over 2008 – and yes, this was at the worst point of the recession. When we closed out the books for 2009, net income actually grew 255%. Our forecasting error was one-third of one percent, and it was an error to the good side.
I can tell you right now that our profit projections will never, ever again be that accurate. Ever. Why is that? Well, after posting such a profitable year, the Taxman has showed up. You see, when you start a business, you usually post losses, not profits, for a while. SoftLayer was no exception here. After posting losses in 2006 and 2007, we turned the corner to profitability in 2008. So why were we not bothered by taxes in 2009? In a nutshell, the tax laws allow you to roll a portion of historic losses forward against profits before you must begin booking tax expenses. We had a meeting yesterday with our corporate tax advisor, and in 2010, we must begin booking tax expenses. Oh boy.
It’s one thing to look at your business model going a year ahead. We can look at macroeconomic indicators that are meaningful to our business and calculate the coefficient of correlation (R-square for you stat geeks) of our growth rate to those indicators and walk things forward. Then based on our anticipated sales growth, we can extrapolate how much datacenter space and power we will need to add, how many routers, switches, and servers to order, and how many people to hire.
Now, if you think that sounds complicated, just wait until you try to forecast how much tax you will have to pay. The biggest problem is the tax laws themselves. They are always moving and changing. In addition, they are sometimes changed retroactively. For example, in 2009, there was an allowance to take bonus depreciation on equipment purchased. (We purchase a lot of it, by the way.) This means that you are allowed to deduct a higher percentage of the dollars spent on equipment from your taxable income and thus lower your tax expense. Well, so far in 2010, there is no bonus depreciation available. BUT, there is a possibility that Congress will extend bonus depreciation into 2010, and make it retroactive to January 1. You tell me – how are we supposed to forecast that?
This is one of but many examples of the craziness of the tax codes that we encounter. As we open more locations in the future, I may blog a bit about some of the other craziness we find.