Hedge fund investors are always cognizant of the potential tax consequences of an investment into a hedge fund. One of the issues which a hedge fund manager should be aware of is the concept of unrelated business taxable income or UBTI.
What is UBTI and why is it important?
As it relates to a tax-exempt investor in a hedge fund, UBTI is debt financed income derived by the hedge fund which does not relate to the activities of the tax-exempt investor. As hedge funds are “flow through” vehicles, the designation of income as UBTI flows through the tax-exempt investor. This is important because the tax-exempt investor must pay tax (called the unrelated business income tax or UBIT) on that portion of the income received by the fund which is UBTI. UBTI is generally going to be taxed at a 35% rate.
Is there a way to get around UBTI?
There are two ways to make sure that tax-exempt investors do not receive any UBTI. The first and most obvious is to make sure that the fund will use no leverage. Because this might not be an option for some hedge funds, and because these funds would like to receive assets from tax-exempt entities, another option is for the fund to create an offshore hedge fund (either through a side by side structure or a master feeder structure). In these structures that income does not “flow-through” to the investors like with the domestic hedge fund, but rather the income is paid to the investors through a dividend which is generally not taxable to a tax-exempt organization. Using an offshore structure in this manner is often described as using a “blocker” because the UBTI is blocked out.
Do short sales give rise to UBTI?
Short sales alone do not give rise to UBTI. The IRS has specifically provided guidance to the hedge fund community on this issue. Please see Revenue Rule 95-8. However, if a hedge fund borrowed money to engage in the short sale, this would probably give rise to UBTI. If the fund utilizes short sales and engages in no leverage activities, then the there will likely be no UBTI with regard to the short sales.
What are the tax code provisions dealing with UBTI?
The following are links to the tax code dealing with UBTI:
Section 511 – provides for a tax on UBTI
Section 512 – defines UBTI and provides for the pass through treatment of UBTI to tax-exmpt investors in a fund (see 512(c))
Section 513 – provides a definition for “unrelated trade or business.”
Section 514 – provides additional definitional support for determining the amount of UBTI under section 512.