As always, it's fun making banks look like the bad guys. And what better way is there than looking at the taxes they pay?

A recent study by the Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that J. P. Morgan & Co. was one of 41 companies that not only did not pay any taxes in 1998, but actually received a tax rebate.

To investors, that's astute management. To non-profit groups such as ITEP and its affiliate, Citizens for Tax Justice, it's unfair to other taxpayers.

But Morgan, whose profits in recent years have been less than great, is not the best example. State Street Corp. is much better. It's a top-notch earner and, reflecting that, its shares sell at among the highest banking industry multiples. According to the ITEP study, State Street's average tax rate for the three years from 1996 through 1998 was a measly 7.6%. Compare that with the statutory rate of 35%. State Street was second only to Transamerica, which achieved the scanty rate of 0.2% for the three-year period.

Morgan came in third, with 9.6%. Other banking companies cited were First Union, 10.8%; KeyCorp, 15.8%; BankBoston, 18%; Wachovia, 18.5%; and Bank of New York, 19.4%.

The good guys (or the dummies) were MBNA, 31.4%; Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 30.7%; Comerica, 30.6%; and Charles Schwab, 30.4%.


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