Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Aggregate Corporation Tax Computation for Companies with No Net Income

Among the Corporation Tax Statistics provided by the Revenue Commissioners is a breakdown of a number of the items that make up the aggregate corporation tax computation by range of net income.  Here we will look at the recent outturns for companies reporting “nil or negative” net trading income.  With no net trading income it might suggest that there is little going on from a tax perspective but that is far from the case.

The table below provides the aggregate computations for “All Companies” and for “Companies with no Net Income”.  Some items are not provided in breakdown used but more than enough is provided to see what is going on.  It should also be noted that this breakdown is done by individual entity so while a company or group may have an entity with no net trading income this does not mean that the group as a whole does not have net trading or other taxable income with tax liabilities associated with that.  Anyway here they are: 

Corporation Tax Computation for Companies with No Trading Income

In the panel on the right we can see the line of duck eggs in the row for Net Trading Income but there is a lot going on both above and below that.

At the top we can see that companies with no Net Trading Income had Gross Trading Profits of just over €40 billion, a rise of €26.5 billion.  Net income is derived by subtracting capital allowances and previous trading losses carried forward.  The dataset gives the amount of these that are available rather than used but the effect of them is to reduce the starting figure for gross trading profits to a net figure of zero. 

Most of the losses likely relate to financial institutions and a large portion of them will likely never be used as some of the companies are in liquidation.  The use of previous losses is only possible if there are current gross trading profits against which to offset them.

The changes for capital allowances are more interesting.  In 2015, the amount of capital allowances available for all companies increased by €27.8 billion.  We can see that of that €25.6 billion was related to companies with no Net Trading Income. 

Thus we have an increase of around €26 billion in the gross trading profits offset by an increase of around €26 billion in capital allowances resulting in a net trading income of nil. 

Moving down the computation we can see that while these companies might have no net trading income they do have significant amount of other income and in particular foreign income.  In 2015, the Total Income of companies with no net trading income was over €10 billion with almost €8 billion of this being Foreign Income.  The remainder is made up of capital gains (regrossed to reflect the difference between the rate of Corporation Tax and Capital Gains Tax) and net rental income.  Since 2011, around 70 per cent of the income in these categories has arisen in companies with no net trading income.  In most years,  these companies had limited deductions to use against this and in 2015 the €10 billion of other income translated into a Taxable Income of €9.3 billion.

We don’t get a breakdown of gross tax due by range of net trading income but applying the 12.5 per cent rate would give a rough approximation of around €1.1 billion.  We can see from the bottom line that the amount of Tax Due was €177 million and that almost all of that reduction is the result of €730 million of Double Taxation Relief granted to these companies in 2015.  The €177 million of tax due likely arises due to rental, capital gains and other income earned by companies in this group.

The foreign income included in the table relates to external activities of Irish-resident companies.  This is in the Corporation Tax computation as Ireland has a worldwide regime and remitted branch or related company dividends are included in the Taxable Income base.  To avoid double taxation a relief is granted in the form of a foreign tax credit.  This credit is one of the main reasons the tax due as a proportion of taxable income is below 12.5 per cent (as shown it was 9.6 per cent in 2015)

The data by range of net income shows that almost 80 per cent of the €948 million of Double Taxation Relief granted in 2015 was to companies with no net trading income.  In overall terms there are ten of thousands of companies in this category but Double Taxation Relief was granted to just 413.  In 2015, there was also €213 million granted under the Additional Foreign Tax Credit.  This is included under “Other Tax Relief” in the table above but is only available for all companies as a breakdown by range of net income is not provided.

It is likely we are dealing with a small group of Irish-resident companies.  These companies may have no or limited domestic trading activities though other companies in the group may have significant operations, and tax liabilities, here.  These companies have large amounts of foreign income included in their Taxable Income in Ireland but the application of the various double tax reliefs will significantly offset their gross tax due in Ireland.  The end point of tax due as a proportion of taxable income was 1.9 per cent for for the group of companies with no net domestic trading income in 2015.

As a result of these large foreign profits and small tax amounts due in Ireland it is likely that these companies make up a significant proportion of the 13 companies from the Top 100 ranked by Taxable Income identified by the Comptroller and Auditor General as having effective tax rates of 1 per cent or less.  We looked at this at the time here

While the Irish tax due on these foreign profits may be nil it will be the case that the companies will have paid amounts of foreign tax on these profits (that it why they are getting the foreign tax credit) so that the effective tax rates of the companies (as opposed to just their effective rate of Irish tax) will much higher. 

If we want to remedy some of the near-zero effective tax rates identified by the C&AG one solution would be to move to a territorial which would take large amounts of foreign income out of the Irish tax base and negate the need to provide a foreign tax credit.  This would reduce companies Taxable Income to that generated by their Irish activities (or any income attributed to their Irish activities by any CFC rules Ireland might introduce) and the effective tax rate would be much closer to 12.5 per cent.  The C&AG report that 79 of the Top 100 companies had effective tax rates above 10 per cent with 59 having effective tax rates greater than 12.5 per cent.  Moving to a territorial system would increase those numbers.

The second main reason for the low effective tax rates identified by the C&AG is the R&D tax credit.  We do get a breakdown of the R&D credit used against tax in the current year by range of net income.  As shown above just €2 million of the €349 million of the credit used in this manner in 2015 was for companies with no net trading income and this was spread across 94 companies.  The figures show that €302 million went to 99 companies with to net trading incomes greater than €10 million.

When looking at low effective tax rates it would probably be much more informative to look at the distribution of the €359 million of the R&D tax credit that was paid to companies as the credit they were entitled to exceeded their tax liability. Unfortunately a breakdown of this component of the R&D tax credit is not provided in the Revenue statistics. 

The very fact that this is a payment of an excess credit means that these companies will have a negative effective tax rate.  We do not know how many such companies  are in the Top 100 as set out by the C&AG but again note, that like the foreign tax credit, it is a logical explanation, and deliberate policy choice, behind the low effective tax rates identified by the C&AG. 

So, if we want to further remedy the low effective tax rates the solution in this instance is to abolish the R&D tax credit.  Do that and even more of the Top 100 will have effective tax rates close to 12.5 per cent. 

The Revenue Commissioners have actually considered this and in recent evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, the Chair of the Revenue Commissioners said:

…if the effective tax rate of each of the 13 companies is calculated before taking account of double tax relief and the R&D tax credit, each would have an effective tax rate in excess of 12%.

So this really is only something to get excited about unless we think companies are paying tax elsewhere or incurring R&D expenditure to avoid Irish taxes.  If anything the C&AG report confirms that the Taxable Income of companies is taxed at close to the 12.5 per cent rate.  It is in the determination of that Taxable Income where most of the action is.

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