t will take some time for investors to figure out all the investment related ramifications of the new income tax rules. Master limited partnership (MLP) focused funds are one asset class that will see a major benefit from the tax overhaul. Because they are forced into a different business structure, a fund with MLP assets of more than 25% will get the benefit of the corporate income tax reduction from 35% down to 21%. It’s a big deal.
The typical stock funds, including mutual funds, exchange traded funds (ETFs), and closed-end funds (CEFs), are formed and operated as Registered Investment Companies. The Investment Company Act of 1940 allows a fund to operate as a pass-through entity. This means the fund must pay out all portfolio income and realized capital gains as distributions to the fund investors. The fund does on pay income tax on the portfolio earnings. The tax characteristics of the income and capital gains are passed through to the fund investors.
The exception against a fund being able to operate as a registered investment company is if the fund’s portfolio holds more than 25% of its assets in MLPs. If that is the case, the fund will instead be organized as a C corporation and be liable to pay corporate income tax on the portfolio’s income and capital gains. Most of the MLP focused mutual funds, ETFs and CEFs have more than 25% MLP holdings and are organized as corporations.