Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Household savings and the changes in aggregate income during the pandemic

The CSO have published the Q2 2021 update of the Non-Financial Institutional Sector Accounts. Here we will focus on the household sector (which in the quarterly ISAs also includes non-profit institutions serving households). 

A lot of attention has obviously gone on the spikes we have seen in the household saving rate during the pandemic.  In the first half of 2018 and 2019 the household savings rate was around 12 per cent.  For the equivalent periods of 2020 and 2021 it was around 30 per cent.  This is shown in the bottom line of the table below with shows the outcomes for the first six months of the past four years.

Household Sector Current Account H1 2018-2021

While a fall in consumption opportunities undoubtedly played a role in the rise in household savings the impact of changes income has been as important.  A couple of lines up from Gross Savings is the line giving Gross Disposable Income. In the national accounts methodology used here, “gross” means before depreciation of fixed assets.

Gross Disposable Income is a measure of national income after taxes and transfers.  Looking across this for the four years shows no signs of a pandemic the public health response to which saw large swathes of the economy shut down by government decree. 

Indeed, the figure for the first half of 2021 is around €8 billion higher than for the equivalent period of 2019.  This allied to the €4 billion reduction in consumption is what gives rise to the €12 billion increase in savings.

A key reason for the lack of a pandemic effect in aggregate household income is that the government stepped in to support incomes.  One element of this is visible in the household sector current account with the row for social benefits (other than benefits in kind) received from the government sector.  These were €11.8 billion in H1 2019 but were €17.2 billion in the first half of 2021, primarily driven by the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

There is some evidence of the pandemic shock in compensation of employees received which H1 2020 showing annual falls for wages received from non-financial corporates and other households.  However, these drops are modest relative to the scale of the sectors that were shut down. 

A key reason for this is that the wages paid by companies were supported by subsidy schemes.  In the household accounts, the money is paid from firms to households but the firms first received it from the government sector.

Figures for the non-financial corporate sector show that the sector received €350 million of other subsidies on production in the first half of 2019 (a lot of which would be public service obligation subsidies to commercial semi-states and other companies) to receiving €2.7 billion in the first half of 2021. 

The increase was due to the various pandemic-related wage subsidy schemes that have been introduced.  In the absence of these there would have been a much more pronounced fall in the wages received by the household sector from non-financial corporates.

The top line above is Gross Domestic Product.  For the household sector this is the value added of the self employed, including agriculture and the rents from the provision of housing services.  These rents include those from buy-to-lets but are mainly the imputed rents of owner-occupiers for the housing services that they provide to themselves.  The GDP of the household sector

The imputed rent of owner-occupiers counts as income but as they also consume the associated housing services the imputed rent is netted out through final consumption expenditure and has no impact of the savings rate. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

Outbound royalty payments head for €100 billion

One notable aspect of the presence of US MNCs in Ireland is the scale of outbound royalty payments. These are payments their Irish subsidiaries make for the use of technology developed elsewhere (mainly in the US itself).

Royalty Imports to All Countries 2008-2021

The latest figures to the end of Q2 2021 put the four-quarter sum of outbound royalty payments from Ireland at €95.6 billion.  It is likely that the total for the 2021 calendar year will exceed €100 billion. 

While the overall total of outbound royalties has exhibited a fairly steady increase in recent years, the  destination of those payments has changed markedly. 

Royalty Imports by Region 2011-2021

In the five years to 2019, the United States was the recipient of around 10 per cent of the outbound royalty payments from Ireland.  The 18 months has seen a huge shift and the latest figures from Eurostat show that the US was the recipient of almost 80 per cent of the outbound royalties from Ireland in the 12 months to the end of June 2021.

The chart shows the large drops in payments going to Offshore Financial Centres (Bermuda, Cayman etc.) and the Euro Area (which mainly went to The Netherlands before been subsequentlty directed to OFCs).  These payments were linked to “double-irish” type structures where US MNCs located licenses to use their technology in markets outside the Americas.

The Irish subsidiaries paid for the technology they were using (patents for pharmaceuticals, online platforms for ICT companies etc.).  This technology was almost wholly developed in the US but the US tax code facilitated US MNCs in putting the licenses to use the technology in no-tax jurisdictions where they had no substance.  This allowed the companies to benefit from the deferred payment of the US tax due on the profits those licenses were generating.

Changes in recent years have targeted these structures.  The US has moved from a worldwide system with deferral to a quasi-territorial system with payments due as the profit is earned. 

For many companies, most notable ICT companies, this has resulted in them moving the licenses for their technology back to the US. And now the payments that leave Ireland are flowing to the US.

Is this “stepping up action to address features of the tax system that facilitate aggressive tax planning, including on outbound payments” as required per the European Commission’s most recent set of Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs) to Ireland?

But if it is, what has changed? Very little.  There has been no change in the market countries being served by international HQs in Ireland.  The payments they make for the services provided by the ICT companies still flow to Ireland.  Royalty payments continue to be made from Ireland but are now being directed to the US, where the technology is developed, rather than Offshore Financial Centres.

The only place the end of the “double irish” has had any noticeable impact is in the United States.  This is not a surprise as the tax that was impacted by the structure was US tax (with companies benefitting from deferral on profits kept offshore).  Now the income flows direct to the US and is subject to immediate tax that – albeit at significantly reduced rates courtesy of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of December 2017.

Ireland Balance of Payments data is showing €75 billion of royalties flowing to the US in the 12 months to the end of June.  The equivalent figure two years earlier was €8 billion.  As the chart above shows this huge increase is clearly evident in the Irish data. 

But evidence of these payments remains absent in the data published by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis which show no increase in receipts of “charges for the use of intellectual property”.

Table 1 shows that total service exports from the US are around $800 billion a year so the changes noted here for payments from Ireland should have had a noticeable impact, at least in the relevant category. 

And even in the context of the entire US economy these payments are equivalent to something like 0.2 or 0.3 per cent of US GDP.  These things get huge focus when they come to attention in Irish national accounts. Will the US get to avoid such scrutiny for amounts of the same value because the relative scale will be 100 times smaller?

Friday, July 23, 2021

Google, Bermuda, and Effective Tax Rates

In its 2020 annual report Google noted that:

As of December 31, 2019, we have simplified our corporate legal entity structure and now license intellectual property from the U.S. that was previously licensed from Bermuda resulting in an increase in the portion of our income earned in the U.S.

As a result of this change, royalty payments from Ireland which previous ended up in Bermuda, via The Netherlands, now flow directly to the United States. Here we will assess the impact the structure had on Google’s taxes over its entire duration from 2003 to 2019.

Google Foreign Domestic and Tax 2003-2019

Over the full period, Google had an effective tax rate of 21.8 per cent.  The contributions to this were a foreign tax rate of 7.1 per cent and a domestic, i.e. US, tax rate of 39.8 per cent.

Much attention has been given to Google’s foreign tax rate, particularly those of 2005 to 2011 which averaged just 2.3 per cent.  This was primarily the result of a large share of Google’s foreign profit being reported in Bermuda, which, of course, does not have a corporate income tax.

However, the full picture requires the assessments to incorporate Google’s domestic, i.e. US, and then overall tax rates.  From 2005 to 2011, when its effective foreign tax rate averaged 2.3 per cent, Google’s overall effective tax rate averaged 24.7 per cent.

The domestic tax rate for 2017 is also notable. At 120 per cent the domestic tax charge for the year exceeded domestic pre-tax income.  This is because it included the US tax due under the “deemed repatriation tax”.  This is domestic US tax but is due on foreign profit.  As the company set out in its 2018 10K report:

The Tax Act requires us to pay U.S. income taxes on accumulated foreign subsidiary earnings not previously subject to U.S. income tax at a rate of 15.5% to the extent of foreign cash and certain other net current assets and 8% on the remaining earnings. We recorded a provisional amount for our one-time transitional tax liability and income tax expense of $10.2 billion.

Over the period 2003 to 2017 Google had a domestic tax rate of 49 per cent.  This is not because the US had corporate tax rates as high as that but because included in domestic taxes are the US taxes due on foreign profits, most notably the profits Google reported in Bermuda.

It is a numerator/denominator issue.  A focus on foreign income and foreign taxes omits the domestic, that is US, tax paid on those profits.  The effective tax rate on Google’s foreign profits was not the 2.3 per cent implied by the effective foreign tax rate.  Indeed the lower Google, and similar MNCs can get their foreign tax rate, the higher their domestic tax rate will be.  And, from 2003 to 2017, nearly 90 per cent of Google’s income tax charge was for US taxes.

The above table also illustrates the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which came into effect from the start of 2018.  For the years shown, Google’s lowest domestic and overall effective tax rates arose in 2018 and 2019.  As a result of the TCJA, Google’s overall effective tax rate, which in aggregate terms was 25.8 per cent from 2003 to 2017, was reduced to 12.7 per cent when 2018 and 2019 are combined.

And finally a table from Google’s most recent 10K report which shows the impact of the company its licensing arrangements in Bermuda:

Google 10K 2020 Domestic Foreign Income

For 2020 there was a large rise in Google’s pre-tax income that was attributed to domestic operations and a commensurate fall in pre-tax income attributed to foreign operations.  Google’s profit is now being reported where most of it is generated: in the US. And because of the TCJA Google will have a lower overall effective tax rate than when it is was shifting tens of billions of profit to Bermuda.

What’s going on with the current account?

Ireland’s balance of payments is subject to huge volatility.  Among the reasons for this are transactions in intellectual property and aircraft for leasing as well as income flows link to redomiciled, but not Irish-owned, PLCs.  In response to this the CSO have been publishing a modified current account, CA*, which strips out the above of these issues.

Getting on a handle on a country’s underlying current account position can be an important part of determining if imbalances are building up.  As the long-run series in the chart below shows, Ireland experienced widening balance of payments deficits in the late-1970s and mid-2000s which precipitated severe problems.

Current Account 1937-2020

Last week, the CSO published the 2020 estimate of the modified current account.  The surplus of €23.5 billion was equivalent to 11.5 per cent of national income.  This is an extremely large surplus by historic Irish and current international terms.

The only time Ireland ran a current account surplus of an equivalent size was during World War II when trade restrictions and rationing were in force.  Ireland’s current account needed to improve to wash out the imbalances built up prior to 2008, but the ongoing rise to record levels seems to be overstating it.

When can get some insight into this from the Institutional Sector Accounts.  The current account of the balance of payments is savings minus investment.  The sector accounts allow us to see the contribution by sector to the current account.  The chart below takes the annual outcomes from the sector accounts for saving minus investment with the figure for the non-financial corporate sector adjusted to make the total across all sectors consistent with the modified current account.

Gross Savings minus Investment by Sector Modified 1999-2020

Immediately, we are drawn to the 2020 figures.  The household sector has been a net lender since 2009 but this increased very significantly in 2020 – due to restrictions on spending.  The support incomes the government sector moved to being a significant borrower. Financial corporations and the impact of items that are not sectorised have not had much impact on the current account in the last four or five years.

That leaves us with the red segment of the bars – the adjusted figure for non-financial corporations.  For the last few years this has been making a positive contribution to the current account and last year it was €12.5 billion.

For the time being we don’t have much insight into this.  While the modified current account is showing a significant surplus some caution should be exercised before considering it available for spending.

Later in the year when the annual sector accounts are published we will get a domestic/foreign split for the corporate sectors in 2020.  Here is what the 2019 figures showed:

Gross Savings minus Investment for Domestic Sectors 2013-2019

There wasn’t really a whole lot going on the domestic sectors up to 2019.  By 2019 all of the household, government, domestic non-financial and domestic financial sectors were net lenders.

However, the most significant changes were happening within the foreign-owned sectors – those sectors we hope would be largely stripped out of the modified current account.  Either via standard net factor flows (repatriated profits etc.) or via the CA* adjustments for IP, aircraft and redomiciled PLCs. 

But even after all those the impact of foreign-owned sectors went from –€7.2 billion in 2017 to +€0.4 billion in 2019.  This was the largest contribution to the rise in the black line (the modified current account) up to 2019.

And the recent update to the modified current account shows that the 2019 figure has been revised up.  It €16.5 billion for last year’s annual sector accounts; when this years sectors accounts are published they will reflect last week’s update which put the 2019 modified current account at €20.2 billion.

It is clear there is something going on – and that it likely to be within the foreign-owned sector. What is not clear is whether it is something that would justify a further refinement of the adjustments made to get to the modified current account. 

It could be due to “good” investment such as manufacturing plants for pharmaceuticals or processors.  Or it could be another distortion that should be stripped out.

There is no doubt that Ireland’s current account has improved relative to the large deficits that were evident up to 2008 but there must be some doubt that that improvement has led to a surplus equivalent to 11.5 per cent of national income. A surplus, yes, just not a record one. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Relative Calm in the 2019 Aggregate Corporation Tax Calculation

A while back the Revenue Commissioners published the 2019 update of the Aggregate Corporation Tax Calculation.  Given recent developments in Corporation Tax revenues is it perhaps surprising to note the general stability in most items in the table.

Aggregate CT Calculation for Taxable Income 2015-2019

Two of the more notable figures are for Capital Allowances used and Foreign Income.  The rise in capital allowances is linked to the onshoring of intangible assets while foreign income is a function of the worldwide nature of the Irish Corporation Tax regime.

The lower half of the table showing how Taxable Income is translated into Tax Due is also relatively stable.  All told, the €6.9 billion increase in Net Trading Income in 2019 resulted in a €728 million increase in Tax Due

Aggregate CT Calculation for Tax Due 2015-2019

In line with the increase in foreign income reported on Irish Corporation Tax returns there has been an increase in Double Taxation Relief and for the Additional Foreign Tax Credit.  These items have by largest impact in the transition from Gross Tax Due to Tax Due. The relief is because the Irish-resident companies which have this foreign income have paid tax in the source jurisdiction so are unlikely to owe any additional tax in Ireland (as the rates paid abroad will generally exceed the 12.5 per cent rate that applies here).

Use of the R&D Tax Credit rose in 2019 with increases in both the credit itself and in the Payment of the Excess R&D Tax Credit in circumstances where a company claiming the credit does not have a sufficiently large tax liability in order to be able to fully utilise the amount of the credit they are eligible for.  Combined these came to €629 million in 2019.

A rarely-looked at item is Gross Withholding Tax on Fees which increased to €367 million in 2019.  Essentially, this is to allow for tax that has already been paid.  There are a number of instances where the person making a payment for certain services must withhold 20 per cent of the fee from the recipient and transfer it to the Revenue Commissioners. 

When a company files its tax return it will include the amount of withholding tax incurred on fees it should have received.  This item reduces the amount of Tax Due but, in a manner somewhat similar to foreign tax credits, it reflects tax that has already been paid.

In the transition from Gross Tax Due to Tax Due the only item that explicitly reduces a company’s tax bill is the R&D tax credit.  If Ireland switched to a territorial regime, the need for foreign tax credits would be removed and the gap between Gross Tax Due and Net Tax would be reduced with limited impact on the liability of companies to Irish Corporation Tax.

Friday, June 18, 2021

The latest insight into Apple’s use of capital allowances

At the start of 2015, Apple revised the structure through which the company’s sales to customers outside the Americas were organised.  This was responsible for the 26 per cent real GDP growth reported for that year.

We initially examined the revised structure here and in recent years have been tracking the consolidated outcomes for the group headed by Apple’s central international subsidiary, Apple Operations International (AOI). 

The recent publication of the AOI Group’s 2020 consolidated accounts gives us the latest insight into Apple’s use of capital allowances.  The two posts above contain details that are not repeated here.

We will start with the consolidated statements of operations and note that this covers the holding company AOI and around 80 subsidiaries operating beneath it, with the group as a whole having just over 50,000 employees.  Most, but not all of the amounts shown, arise in or pass through subsidiaries in Ireland.

AOI Income Statement 2017-2020

Some pretty big numbers there.  As the accounts note:

The Group develops, manufactures and markets smartphone, personal computers, tablets, wearables, and accessories, and sells a variety of related services.

It certainly sells a lot.  For the four years shown, cumulative net sales were close to $600 billion.  And it is massively profitable.  Pre-tax income summed to $165 billion over the four years and the provision for income taxes was a chunky $25 billion.

But we should check a few things before we get excited about that tax figure.  A company making a provision for income taxes in its financial accounts is not the same as a company making a payment for those taxes in cash.  The balance sheet is a useful place to look next.

AOI Balance Sheet 2016-2020

For our purposes we are interested in the line for Deferred tax asset.  We can see that the AOI Group had $25.6 billion of deferred tax assets at the end of its 2016 financial year.  These reduced each year and by the end of its latest financial year stood at $10.9 billion.

Thus, while there might been tax provisions averaging around $6 billion in the income statement for each of the past four years this was not resulting in an equivalent payment out of cash reserves but in the reduction in the deferred tax asset on the balance sheet.

[As we have pointed out before it is also worth noting what this balance sheet does not contain: a huge amount of intangible assets.  Ireland’s national accounts have recognised massive intangible assets yet the consolidated accounts of the group which contains the company with that asset does not. Anyway back to the tax payments.]

The difference between the provision for tax and the payments for tax is is confirmed by a supplemental item included with the consolidated statements of cash flows.

AOI Cash Flow Statement 2017-2020

There might have been tax provisions of $6 billion each year but, as the final line above shows, cash payments for income taxes averaged $2 billion a year over the past four years.  And a variation of the following paragraphs are included a number of times in the accounts:

The corporate income taxes in the consolidated statements of operations, balance sheets and statement of cash flows do not include significant US-level corporate taxes borne by Apple Inc., the ultimate parent of the group.

US-level taxes are paid by Apple Inc. on investment income of the Group at the rate of 24.5% (35.0% in 2017) net of applicable foreign tax credits. In addition, under changes in US tax legislation that took effect in December 2017, Apple Inc. is subject to tax on previously deferred foreign income (at a rate of 15.5% on cash and certain other net assets and 8.0% on the remaining income), net of applicable foreign tax credits.  The new legislation also subjects certain current foreign earnings of the Group to a new minimum tax.

The posts linked above that went through AOI’s 2018 and 2019 accounts go into detail on how the provisions for income taxes were arrived at and show the reconciliation with Ireland’s 12.5 per cent headline rate.  The earlier posts also discuss how the deferred tax asset came about – capital allowances under Section 291A of the Taxes Consolidated Act. 

For now, we will just focus on the evolution of those deferred tax assets using a table from the note to the accounts on the provision for income taxes.

AOI Deferred Tax Assets 2017-2020

We are interested in the deferred tax asset that arises due to Intra Group Transactions.  This likely includes the purchase by a now Irish-resident subsidiary of the license to sell Apple products in all markets outside the Americas.  That outlay (which may have been around $240 billion) will be eligible as a tax deduction with this provided via capital allowances.

At Ireland’s 12.5 rate of corporate tax a $240 billion deduction would be worth $30 billion which is probably where the value of the group’s deferred tax asset from intra-group transactions was in January 2015.

As we can see from the above table tax was being charged against that deferred tax asset.  The utilisation was $4.4 billion in both 2017 and 2018, $3.2 billion in 2018 and $3.3 billion in 2020.  This meant there was $7.4 billion remaining and at the current rate of utilisation will be fully exhausted in the next two to two and a half years.

The utilisation of capital allowances at that scale means that something in and around €25 billion of gross profit is being offset by a deduction for capital allowances.  As the transaction occurred before October 2017 no cap applies and, if sufficient capital allowances are available, the company can fully offset its profit with capital allowances and this is was happened in 2015, 2016 and 2017.  A small amount of profit may have been subject to tax in 2018.  Any unused capital allowances in the earlier years are carried forward as losses but essentially remain as a deferred tax asset.

As before, the key question is the amount of profit that will be subject to tax when the deferred tax asset is fully exhausted.  If nothing changes at that point then somewhere in the region of €25 billion of gross profit will be added to the taxable income of the Irish-resident Apple subsidiary that currently holds the license to sell Apple products outside the Americas. 

This would see tax payments in Ireland rise by €3 billion or so and that Apple subsidiary would almost certainly become Ireland’s largest taxpayer.  If nothing changes.

We have already seen a number of major US ICT MNCs transfer their IP back to the US (from which it should never have been allowed leave in the first place).  Apple have the option to do the same and maybe this becomes more likely as the amount of capital allowances available nears exhaustion.

If Apple were to do so, this would reverse the GDP surge that occurred in 2015 and the value added would be rightfully recorded where it is generated – in the US.  Changes that add 0.2 per cent to US GDP won’t make headlines in the same way a 10 per cent reduction in Irish GDP would.  But they essentially involve the same thing.

And further it probably won’t significantly change the company’s tax payments  - not in Ireland at any rate.  With capital allowances the profit is not currently exposed to Ireland’s 12.5 per cent Corporation Tax.  As pointed out above the profit is subject to tax in the US under the minimum tax on foreign earnings introduced by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). 

This is the tax on Global Intangible Low Taxed Income – GILTI.  The Biden administration are proposed to double this from 10.5 per cent to 21 per cent.  If Apple relocates their IP to the US and continues to use a licensing structure (they could also decide to simply sell the products from the US) then the income from that license would be taxes under the Foreign Derived Intangible Income (FDII) provisions also introduced by the TCJA.  The Biden administration are proposing to abolish FDII.

There is lots of uncertainty.  But as shown here there is no doubt that the amount of remaining capital allowances Apple has in Ireland is reducing.  What was probably around $30 billion in 2015 was down to $7.4 billion in September 2020.  We won’t get many more insights into Apple’s use of capital allowances – because soon enough they will be gone. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Why there’s no pot of gold from suggestions of German multinationals reporting low-taxed profit in Ireland

Last week’s New York Times op-ed by Prof. Paul Krugman got some attention though mainly for some of the characterisations used.  And there is a difference between a pithy remark about a set of national accounts and the pejorative use of language to describe the residents of a country.

But let’s focus on the substance of some of the points made and, in particular, this extract which draws on some comments made by Prof. Gabriel Zucman on the recent G7 agreement:

Which brings us to that G7 deal. How would the 15 per cent minimum rate work? Here’s how Gabriel Zucman – who has arguably done more than anyone else to highlight the importance of international tax avoidance – summarises it:

“Take a German multinational that books income in Ireland, taxed at an effective rate of 5 per cent. Germany will now collect an extra 10 per cent tax to arrive at a rate of 15 per cent – same for profits booked by German multinationals in Bermuda, Singapore, etc.”

It seems it is to be taken as given that the suggestion of a German multinational booking profits in Ireland is a relevant example.  But has there ever been evidence of German multinationals with profits booked in Ireland and taxed at five per cent?  Unfortunately, Germany has yet to provide aggregate data to the OECD from the country-by-country reports filed by German multinationals with the German tax authority.

There is, though, this recent CESifo working paper which uses the firm-level reports filed with the German tax authority to assess profit shifting by German multinationals. The conclusion of the paper includes the following:

However, compared to the profits in non-haven countries, profits reported in tax havens are small – only accounting for 9% of global profits.


Our findings suggest that annually, EUR 3.8 billion of EUR 125 billion of total foreign profits of German MNEs are shifted to tax havens, yielding a share of approximately 3%.

In general, estimates of the extent of profit shifting in the literature tend to be higher, although some studies, in particular Blouin and Robinson (2020), find similar magnitudes. The differences in the results may result from different methods or data sources, but they may also reveal that German MNEs are less prone to shift profits than MNEs from other countries. That in turn could reflect tighter anti-tax avoidance policies in Germany and in important host countries of German foreign investment. Another reason could be differences in profit shifting opportunities due to firm characteristics such as the importance of intangible assets.

The final points on policy and opportunities are important considerations when examining US multinationals.  While we don’t have aggregate data for German multinationals from country-by-country reports there are other salient sources that can be used.  One is Eurostat’s dataset on foreign-controlled EU enterprises.

It is not a perfect match for tax data but does point in the right direction.  Here is the gross operating surplus of foreign enterprises operating in Ireland in 2018 by controlling country.  This measure is not the same as taxable income and gross means before any adjustment for depreciation.

GOS in Ireland by Controlling Country 2018

It it clear that there is only one bar that matters.  Most of the other numbers are non-zero but are not large enough to be visible due to the axis range needed to include the figure for the US.  Germany is up towards the top of the chart and the gross operating surplus in Ireland of German-controlled enterprises is small compared to that of US-controlled enterprises.

We can see more detail of the distribution of profits of German companies across EU countries with the following table which shows the gross operating surplus of enterprises ultimately controlled from Germany by the location of those enterprises.

GOS of German controlled enterprises in EU countries

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the profits of German controlled-enterprises is generated in Germany.  The figures for Germany in the table include both multinational and non-multinational enterprises.  For German multinational enterprises, the rest of the table gives the amount of gross operating surplus they record in other EU countries.  The table is in rank order based on the most recently available outturn.

For Ireland, we can see that the figure has typically been around €1.2 billion in recent years which can be compared to the €117 billion of gross operating surplus that US MNEs had in Ireland in 2018.

In the above table, Ireland is below Finland, Portugal, Denmark, Slovakia and Sweden as a location for the profits of German MNEs.  And that €1.2 billion will include the profit of Germany companies which have come to Ireland to service the domestic market such as grocery retailers.

Having people take an example of a German company booking profit in Ireland stumbles on two bases. First, in overall terms, German companies do not shift large amounts of their profits to low-tax jurisdictions (likely because they can not do so under German law). And, second, aggregate data suggests that German companies do not report significant amounts of profit in Ireland (unlike US companies).

Indeed, using an approach that is incorrect but frequently used, the argument could be made that German companies are shifting profit out of Ireland.  Here are the recent accounts for BMW Automotive (Ireland) Ltd.

BMW Ireland 2019

For the years shown BMW sold about 5,000 vehicles in Ireland – across its BMW and Mini brands.  The sale of these vehicles generates the revenue for this company.  In 2019, it can be seen that after €147 million of cost of sales and €9 million of administrative expenses the company recorded an operating profit of €871,000 and incurred an income tax expenses of €120,000 (or around €24 per vehicle sold).

In 2019, BMW as a whole had revenue of €104 billion and a pre-tax profit of €7 billion.  The overall margin of the company was around 15 times higher than the margin reported by BMW Automotive (Ireland).  Why was BMW’s Irish subsidiary so unprofitable?  The result was mainly driven by the cost of sales figure.

The cost of sales is the price BMW in Ireland had to pay for the cars it sells.  It is a transfer price.  And BMW has set this price at such a level that almost no profit is left in Ireland.  Most of the profit will be reported in Germany. 

And this fine.  BMW Automotive (Ireland) does little more than wholesale cars.  It has very limited functions, assets and risks and a low profit margin is appropriate.  The designing, manufacturing, branding, pricing and lots of other things necessary before a BMW car can be sold all take place somewhere else.

Why doesn’t BMW manipulate the transfer price so that more of its profit is reported in low-tax Ireland rather than high-tax Germany? It can’t.  BMW Germany has to charge BMW Ireland the same price it charges to other wholesalers of its vehicles. 

BMW could try to have more of its profit reported in Ireland by charging BMW Ireland a much lower price.  But the German tax authority would simply ask for the price charged in other similar transactions and challenge the transfer price used.  Just as they would for all other German MNEs that might try to shift profit to Ireland. 

There might be suggestions of German MNE booking profit in Ireland to be taxed at five per cent but there aren’t many examples of it. 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Is this Ireland’s largest taxpayer?

Ireland’s Corporation Tax revenues are concentrated along two dimensions: by company and by country.  Concentration by company can be readily seen with the figure for the top 10 payers published in a research report by the Revenue Commissioners.

Corporation Tax Receipts Top 10 2011-2020

Over the last ten years, the share of Corporation Tax arising from the top 10 payers averaged 40 per cent.  The greatest level of concentration was seen in 2020 when the top 10 share exceeded 50 per cent for the first time. 

Since 2014, overall Corporation Tax receipts have almost trebled.  The amount that comes from the top 10 has quadrupled (though it should be noted that the top 10 is not made up of the same companies each year).

If the top 10 companies all made equal payments, then their individual payments of Corporation Tax would be just under €600 million each.  These would be very large tax payments.  However, the distribution is not likely to be uniform and it is very likely that the very top payers paid much more than this average.

The second dimension along which Irish Corporation Tax revenues are concentrated is by country.  Of the numerous unusual features of Ireland Corporation Tax revenues one of the most significant is that around four-fifths of payment come from foreign-owned companies.  As the Revenue report notes:

[F]oreign-owned multinationals paid €9,657 billion (82 per cent of net CT receipts), Irish-owned multinationals €841 million (7 per cent) and non-multinationals €1.335 billion (11 per cent).

Some of those foreign-owned multinationals have a presence here to serve the domestic markets (such as retailers, banks etc.) but most of the payments in this group come from what could be considered “the FDI sector”.  There aren’t many US companies here to serve the domestic market but they have a very large presence in Ireland.  And are making very large tax payments.

Since 2016 US MNCs who are required to do so have been filing country-by-country reports (CbCR) with the IRS.  Aggregate statistics have been published here.  For the years available, the corporate income tax paid (on cash basis) in Ireland of the US MNCs who filed CbCR reports are recorded as being:

  • 2016: $4,281.3 million
  • 2017: $5,189.7 million
  • 2018: $7,944.4 million

We cannot compare these directly with the total figures in the first table above as they are in a different currency and the time periods covered do not exactly coincide.  Taking an annual average exchange rate would give a figure of €6.7 billion.  In rough terms in looks like around 60 per cent of Irish Corporation Tax receipts in recent years was paid by US-owned multinationals. 

And the IRS data shows a further remarkable outcome: the $7.9 billion paid by US MNCs in Corporation Tax to Ireland for accounting periods ending between July 2018 and June 2019 placed Ireland as the third-highest recipient of corporate tax from US MNCs across all countries.

IRS CbCR Cash Tax Paid Chart 2018

Anyway, what we can take from this prologue is that one:

  1. The largest payer of Corporation Tax in Ireland is likely to making annual payments that now exceed €1 billion.
  2. This company is likely to be part of a US MNC.

So, now we need a few candidates.  Or maybe we just need to look at one: Microsoft Ireland Research.  In recent months there have been a number of stories about a different Microsoft subsidiary, Round Island One, which is based in Bermuda. 

That these stories did not reflect the tax outcomes for the overall Microsoft Corporation or for Microsoft’s operations in Ireland is par for the course.  There haven’t been too many stories about Microsoft Ireland Research and none that have set out its tax outcomes.

In its latest annual report, Microsoft Ireland Research describes itself as:

The principal activity of the company is licensing the rights to assets owned and developed by the company to other group companies, to enable them to sell and distribute Microsoft products.  These other group companies pay a royalty to the company under these agreements.  In addition the company is engaged in product localization and product research and development activities.

Microsoft Ireland Research is an Irish-resident company.  As noted in the annual report its “accounting records are maintained at One Microsoft Place, South County Business Park, Leopardstown, Dublin 18.”  Its operations do appear to be concentrated in Ireland, including the 500 staff it had in 2020, but the annual report does say that “the company also has a branch in Turkey.” 

A 2012 report for the US Senate Subcommittee on Investigations contained this summary for Microsoft Ireland Research:

Microsoft coordinates all of its consumer product sales for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), out of a group of entities in Ireland. One key entity called Microsoft Ireland Research (MIR) is a cost share participant with Microsoft Corporation, sharing 30% of the costs of Microsoft’s world-wide research and development expenses in exchange for the right to sell finished products in EMEA. MIR, which is located in Ireland, is a wholly-owned disregarded CFC of Round Island One, a wholly owned Microsoft CFC which operates in Ireland but is headquartered in Bermuda. The bulk of the research and development that MIR helps finance is performed in the United States at Microsoft Corporation, with MIR responsible for conducting less than 1% of the company’s total R&D.

Filings for Microsoft Ireland Research with the CRO show that the performance of the company in recent years has been very strong. Here are the profit and loss accounts since 2017.

Microsoft Ireland Research Income Statement 2017-2020

Turnover has increased from $11.6 billion in 2017 to €33.5 billion in 2020 with operating profit rising from $5 billion to $14 billion.

Although the company describes its turnover as being derived from royalties the CSO does not seem to do the same.  Ireland’s royalty exports do not match the figures shown above.  It is likely the CSO put the revenue of this company into its “computer services” export category.  These are now running at an annual total of more than €125 billion.

Services Exports Computer Services and Royalties 2013-2021

In its International Accounts releases, the CSO notes for the Computer Services category that this:

Covers exports and imports of software that were not incorporated as part of computer hardware or physical media but separately transmitted by electronic means. The value of sales and purchases of additional software licences is also included.

The licenses sold by Microsoft Research Ireland are covered by the second sentence.  Our primary interest here is in the company’s tax payments.  We can see from the profit and loss accounts that Microsoft Ireland Research’s tax charge has gone from $628 million in 2017 to $1,803 million in 2020.  This is not out of line with the aggregate figures set out at the start of this piece.

But a company making a tax charge on its income statement is not necessarily the same as a company making a cash tax payment to a tax authority.  The payment of the tax charge could be deferred leading to a deferred tax liability on the balance sheet or the charge could be offset against an existing deferred tax asset on the balance sheet.  In both instances the tax charge would not be matched by a tax payment.  However, the balance sheet for Microsoft Ireland Research does not show substantial amounts of either deferred tax assets or liabilities.

We can get further insight if we look at the tax reconciliation statement.

Microsoft Ireland Research Tax Recon 2017-2020

And there isn’t really a whole lot that stands out here.  There is reference to the impact of capital allowances which further reduces concern about deferred tax assets.  The second item with the increase from effect of different ROI tax rates on some earnings reflects the 25 per cent Corporation Tax rate that applies to non-trading income such as interest in this case. 

The effect of foreign tax rates is very small indicating that almost all of the profit is subject to tax in Ireland.

The effective tax rate bounces around a bit but that is likely because of the inclusion of income that is not subject to tax in profit before tax.  It is possible that income from shares in group undertakings and gains on the liquidation or disposal of subsidiary would not trigger a tax liability.  As a result of that looking at the tax charge relative to operating profit may be a more reliable gauge.

Microsoft Ireland Research ETR 2017-2020

It is not the definitive word on effective tax rates but, given the aggregate figures in the profit and loss account, does seem to give a consistent indicator of what is going on.  The impact of the 25 per cent rate on non-trading income (which itself is not included in operating profit) likely accounts for the difference in recent years to the standard 12.5 per cent rate.

Using an average exchange rate would give a figure of around €1.6 billion for the 2020 tax charge which is included in the accounts in US dollar terms.  The time periods don’t coincide, and assuming the vast majority of the tax charge is paid to Ireland, then Microsoft Ireland Research could be responsible for 10-12 per cent of Ireland’s overall Corporation Tax revenues.  Such a share for the highest payer would not be out of line with the finding from the Revenue Commissioners that the top 10 companies were responsible for 50.5 per cent of payments in 2020.

Microsoft’s tax outcomes attract some attention but very little of that is directed to the tax payments made by Microsoft Ireland Research.  A Microsoft subsidiary based in Bermuda, Round Island One, makes up for it though as can be seen in the search results for each

There has been some coverage of the outturns for Microsoft Ireland Research.  This May 2019 piece focused on a dividend payment it made.  There are a few mentions in pieces on The Currency including this April 2021 piece that went though some possible implications for Microsoft’s operations in Ireland of the Biden administration proposals for taxing US MNCs. And while this piece also from April 2021 again focused on dividend payments it did set out the financial outturns for the company:

The firm recorded $33.4 billion in turnover in 2020, up from $25.7 billion. Profit at the firm stood at $15.7 billion, down from $21.2 billion in 2018.

Microsoft Research Ireland employed an average of 524 staff per month in 2020, the vast majority of whom worked in localisation and product development. The average wage at the firm was more than €130,000.

But there is one thing absent from them: a sentence setting out the tax outcomes for the company.  This April 2020 piece from The Currency got tantalizingly close when it said the following about Microsoft Ireland Research: 

Its pre-tax profit nearly doubled to $22.5 billion, largely as a result of a $17 billion gain on the absorption of a liquidated Dutch subsidiary. Its corporation tax charge, by contrast, dropped by $200 million as a result of a $1.4 billion “decrease from effect of expenses not deductible in determining taxable profit”.

The $200 million drop in the tax charge made the cut but that this was a drop from $1.4 billion in 2018 to €1.2 billion in 2019.  And a subsequent piece featuring the company did not squeeze in the $600 million rise in 2020.  The tax charges across the last three years for Microsoft Ireland Research sum to almost $4.5 billion but they remain hidden from the reader in the few pieces that actually examine the company.

For a country that has seen a trebling of corporate tax revenues since 2014, is the third-largest recipient in the world of corporate taxes from US MNCs and with payments so concentrated that last year just ten companies were the source of half of all payments there has been very little interest in setting out who is actually making those payments.  Indeed, one could say there have been efforts to avoid doing so.

Could one company have paid €1.6 billion in tax in 2020?  The degree of concentration in the payments suggests that is possible.  Could that company have been Microsoft Ireland Research? The company’s financial accounts would suggest it was.  And if it was there is unlikely to be have a company with a larger tax payment. 

And that itself is not the end of Microsoft’s tax payments in Ireland.  Another Irish-resident subsidiary, Microsoft Ireland Operations Limited, had a 2020 tax charge of $342 million and a similar analysis to the above would indicate that pretty much all of that was also paid to Ireland.

Does Microsoft even pay $2 billion of tax in total, never mind only to Ireland?  Here is the consolidated income statement of Microsoft Corporation for the past five years.

Microsoft Income Statement 2016-2020

Certainly, plenty of scope for $2 billion of tax payments there.  Indeed in 2020, Microsoft had a provision for income taxes of $8.6 billion (16.5 per cent of its $53 billion pre-tax profit) and cash paid for income taxes was $12.5 billion.  Timing differences mean provisions and payments don’t always coincide.

But maybe all this tax was paid to the US. It wasn’t.  Here’s a table taken from Microsoft’s annual 10K report for 2020 showing the split of its tax provision into domestic (i.e., US federal, state and local taxes) and foreign taxes.

Microsoft Provision for Income Taxes

The one-off distortions caused by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and other factors seem to have been worked out for the 2020 tax provision.  The table shows that the $8.8 billion tax provision for 2020 was almost equally divided between domestic and foreign taxes.  Indeed, for the three years shown, Microsoft had a provision for foreign taxes exceeding $4 billion in each year – so a $2 billion tax bill in Ireland cannot be ruled out. 

So, a definitive case that Microsoft Ireland Research is Ireland’s largest taxpayer has not been laid out.  But the evidence is clearly pointing in that direction.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The extra-ordinary tax payments of US MNCs in Ireland

The US tax collector, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), has been publishing aggregate data from the country-by-country reports US MNCs have been filing with them.  The data is available here and the most recent year covered is 2018.

Here are a few categories from the 2018 data with the countries ranked by the amount of cash payments made for corporate income taxes to each of them.  The top 15 are shown.

IRS CbCR Ranked by Cash Tax Paid 2018

As would be expected, the United States itself is the largest recipient of corporate taxes from US MNCs.  Of the $261.5 billion of cash payments for income taxes made by US MNCs in the IRS country-by-country statistics just over $140 billion (53 per cent) was paid to the US.

Next on the list is the UK which was the recipient of $10.9 billion of corporate tax payments from the US MNCs in this data.  And extraordinarily, Ireland is next.  The IRS statistics show that US MNCs paid close on $8 billion of Corporation Tax in Ireland in 2018.  This figure is likely to be higher when the IRS updates its data with subsequent years.

Ireland is the third-highest recipient of corporate taxes from US MNCs in the world.  The scale of the payments being made here is highlighted when they are put in terms of national income.  Here they are put in terms of Gross National Income (for countries with a GNI of more than $100 billion) with the highest 30 countries shown.

IRS CbCR Cash Tax Paid as Share of GNI

The $8 billion of tax paid by US MNCs in Ireland in 2018 was equivalent to 2.6 per cent of Ireland’s Gross National Income (if GNI* is used it moves above 3.0 per cent).  No country with a GNI of more than $100 billion comes close to collecting this amount of tax from US MNCs as a share of its national income. 

The are some smaller countries where the share in Ireland is apparently eclipsed.  These are the Cayman Islands($213 million of tax from US MNCs, 6.9 per cent of GNI), Bermuda ($485m, 6.5%), The Bahamas ($516m, 4.2%) and Luxembourg ($1,398m, 3.1%).  However, these are small payments relative to very small economies and is not clear if the tax payments attributed to US MNCs subsidiaries in those countries are made to those countries.  The GNI of the Cayman Islands is around $3 billion which is 100 times smaller than Ireland and it does not have a corporate income tax from which revenue can be generated.

It is worth noting that the US itself in included in the above chart.  In 2018, the corporate tax revenue from US MNCs in Ireland as a share of GNI was nearly four times higher than it was in the United States.

Monday, April 19, 2021

We know so much about Google’s tax structure, how is it possible to get the reporting so wrong?

The taxation of US multinationals continues to make headlines. It is right that these companies are subject to intense scrutiny but given how frequently they are reported on it is surprising how frequently significant errors arise in the coverage. A recent case in point arises in this piece from The Irish TimesThe piece begins:

Google shifted more than $75.4 billion (€63 billion) in profits out of the Republic using the controversial “double-Irish” tax arrangement in 2019, the last year in which it used the loophole.

The technology giant availed of the tax arrangement to move the money out of Google Ireland Holdings Unlimited Company via interim dividends and other payments. This company was incorporated in Ireland but tax domiciled in Bermuda at the time of the transfer.

It looks like there is headline worthy stuff going on here but in just the opening two paragraphs the piece manages to utterly contradict itself.

Paragraph 1: A Google subsidiary shifted profit out of Ireland.

Paragraph 2: This Google subsidiary was based in Bermuda.

How can a holding company in Bermuda shift profit out of Ireland? Sure, Google Ireland Holdings made substantial dividend payments and distributions in 2019 but it was a payment from a company in Bermuda to its immediate parent.  Neither party to the transaction was in Ireland.  And this is clearly set out in the company’s accounts.

Google Ireland Holdings Dividend 2019

Note 9 to the accounts tells us  “the Company is domiciled and tax resident in Bermuda” while Note 10 tells us that the distributions in 2019 comprised $15 billion of financial assets, $27 billion of debt securities, dividends of $30 billion and other net assets of $3 billion.  That is the $75 billion that generated the headline.

Of course, distributions and annual profit are different things.  We can use the very same accounts the dividends and distributions figure came from to get the company’s profit.   To do that all we have to do is look at its income statement.

Google Ireland Holdings 2019 Accounts

Google Ireland Holdings certainly was a profitable company.  It had a pre-tax profit of $13.7 billion in 2019 from turnover of $26.5 billion.  Of course, as a company resident in Bermuda (which doesn’t have a corporate income tax) pre-tax profit and post-tax profit were the same.

The third paragraph of The Irish Times piece goes:

The move allowed Google Ireland Holdings to escape corporation tax both in the Republic and in the United States where its ultimate parent, Alphabet, is headquartered. The holding company reported a $13 billion pretax profit for 2019, which was effectively tax-free, the accounts show.

Hmmm. Didn’t we have a huge amount of coverage last week, including in The Irish Times itself, of proposed changes to the US minimum tax on the foreign profits of its MNCs – the so-called tax on GILTI, Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income. So, yes you can say that Google Ireland Holdings profit “was effectively tax free” once you ignore the tax that its ultimate parent, Alphabet Inc., is liable to pay on those profits to the US. 

Similarly, we could say Ireland is effectively a landlocked country – once you ignore the hundreds of miles of coastline.  We can say it but it means nothing.  

Moving on to paragraph five:

Google has used the double Irish loophole to funnel billions in global profits through Ireland and on to Bermuda, effectively put them beyond the reach of US tax authorities.

It seems somewhat odd given the above statement, that Google would have included the following note in its 2017 annual accounts:

One-time transition tax

The Tax Act requires us to pay U.S. income taxes on accumulated foreign subsidiary earnings not previously subject to U.S. income tax at a rate of 15.5% to the extent of foreign cash and certain other net current assets and 8% on the remaining earnings. We recorded a provisional amount for our one-time transitional tax liability and income tax expense of $10.2 billion. We have recorded provisional amounts based on estimates of the effects of the Tax Act as the analysis requires significant data from our foreign subsidiaries that is not regularly collected or analyzed.

As permitted by the Tax Act, we intend to pay the one-time transition tax in eight annual interest-free installments beginning in 2018.

This one-time transition tax, or deemed repatriation tax, was levied on the profits that contributed to the dividends and distributions made by Google Ireland Holdings in 2019 and will be paid in annual installments out to 2025. 

So, absolutely you can say that for these profits Google was able to “effectively put them beyond the reach of the US tax authorities”, once you ignore the $10 billion of tax that Google will pay on them.  And, as noted above, any such profits earned since 2018 have been subject to the tax on GILTI.  That tax is in place but as it was introduced in legislation called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act it is not clear how much revenue is being generated by it.

In overall terms, we can assess Google’s tax payments by looking at its annual financial statements.  Here are the company’s income statements for all years from 2010 to 2020, as well as a line about actual tax payments extracted from the company’s cash-flow statements. Click to enlarge.

Google Income Statements 2010-2020

All told, in the 11 years since 2010 Google has reported a cumulative pre-tax profit of $264 billion.  The provision for income taxes sums to $54 billion giving a effective accounting tax rate of just over 20 per cent.

The provision for the one-time transition tax was made in 2017 and it can be seen that the effective tax rate for that year exceeded 50 per cent as the provision for taxes included $10 billion of tax for accumulated foreign profits.

On a cash basis the company paid $41 billion of tax.  This will increase to match the provision for income taxes as future installments of the deemed repatriation tax are paid.

We move on to paragraph six

Companies exploiting the double Irish put their intellectual property into an Irish-registered company that is controlled from a tax haven such as Bermuda. Ireland considers the company to be tax-resident in Bermuda, while the US considers it to be tax-resident here. The result is that when royalty payments are sent to the company, they go untaxed – unless or until the money is eventually sent home to the US parent.

Hmmm. Untaxed that is if you ignore the minimum tax that the US has on the foreign income of its subsidiaries.  The tax on GILTI was introduced in December 2017 which is surely enough time for the reporting to catch up.

The “double irish” was original designed around the “same country exception” in Subpart F of the US tax code.  As this IRS note states passive income, such as royalties, received by the foreign subsidiaries of US MNCs was immediately liable for US tax (under the pre-2018 regime).

Generally, the US shareholder of a foreign corporation is able to defer taxation of the corporation’s income until it has been distributed to the shareholder. However, in the case of a controlled foreign corporation (“CFC”), certain types of income are subject to current inclusion (“subpart F inclusion”) by the US shareholder under IRC 951. One such type of income is Foreign Personal Holding Company Income (FPHCI), which includes income of a CFC such as dividends, interest, rents, and royalties. The FPHCI rules eliminate the deferral of US tax on income earned by certain foreign corporations from portfolio types of investments, i.e., where the company is merely passively receiving investment income rather than earning active business income. Consequently, many of the exceptions to current inclusion of FPHCI focus on the recipients of income (i.e., whether the recipients meet certain criteria). 

As the note sets out there are some exceptions to the immediate inclusion of passive income for taxation in the US.

Another exception that looks to the payor of the income for eligibility requirements is the same country exception from FPHCI under IRC 954(c)(3). Under the same country exception, FPHCI does not include dividends and interest received by a CFC from a related CFC payor which is incorporated in the same country as the recipient CFC, and which has a substantial part of its assets used in its trade or business in that same country. Similarly, under this exception, FPHCI does not include rents and royalties received by a CFC from a related CFC for the use or privilege of using property within the same country as the recipient CFC’s country of incorporation. However, the FPHCI implications/treatment of rents/royalties are outside the scope of this Unit and will be covered in a separate Unit.

This is the reason for “double” part of the moniker. The key is to have two companies registered in the same country. Their residence doesn’t matter from a US perspective.  So, Google had a Irish-registered trading company operating in Ireland and an Irish-registered holding company based in Bermuda. 

The trading company paid for the right to use Google’s technology and because the royalty paid was received by another Irish-registered company, the income was not included when earned but the tax payment could be deferred until the profit was repatriated to the US.  The 2017 TCJA abolished the deferral on taxes on this income.

The company in Ireland is Google Ireland Limited and it is the fulcrum of Google’s international operations.

Google Ireland Limited 2019 Accounts


Some big numbers there. Google Ireland Limited had turnover of €45.7 billion in 2019.  Of this, around €14.3 billion went on the cost of sales which in this case is fees paid to website owners for hosting ads from Google’s services.

From gross profit if €31.4 billion the company incurred €29.7 billion of administrative expenses.  These include staff and premises costs in Ireland but by large the largest component is the royalty it must pay for the license to see advertising using Google’s technology.

After investment and other income, Google Ireland Limited had a pre-tax profit of just under €2 billion and a tax provision of around €250 million (c.12.5 per cent).  This, along with its €600 million of wage costs and purchases from Irish suppliers represents its contribution to the Irish economy.

The main supplier for Google in Ireland is the entity that produces the technology it uses.  Due to a Irish withholding tax in place at the time the structure was set up the royalties payments make a detour to The Netherlands (the “dutch sandwich”) before finding their way to Bermuda.  Under the EU’s Patents and Royalties Directive, Member States can levy a withholding tax on royalties paid to another EU Member State. 

At the time, Ireland would have levied this withholding tax if the payments went from Ireland to Bermuda but this was easily circumvented  by directing the payments first to The Netherlands and then on to Bermuda.

We have already looked the accounts of the Bermudan company above. It received very significant revenues but we can also saw that it incurred very significant costs.  The accounts give a breakdown of some of these.

Google Ireland Holdings Turnover and Costs 2019

The largest cost is R&D expenditure.  This is a holding company with no employees so it obviously isn’t doing the R&D itself. This is the payment for someone else to undertake the R&D on its behalf.  As the accounts note:

Administrative expenses

Administrative expenses increased from US$11.1 billion in 2018 to US$14.1 billion in 2019, an increase of US$3.0 billion. This increase is primarily due to an increase in research and development (“R&D”) expenses. The Company incurred US$10.4 billion (2018: US$9.6 billion) of R&D expenditure in the year pursuant to a cost sharing agreement with a fellow group undertaking. These expenses increased due to an increase in the worldwide spend on R&D.

Google Ireland Holdings was part of a cost-sharing agreement with Google in the US.  The R&D takes place in the US but the cost was split between the US parent and Google Ireland Holdings.  Google Ireland Holdings made a contribution to Google worldwide spend on R&D based on the relative size of the market it serves.  It look like Google Ireland Holdings paid for around 40 per cent of Google overall spend on R&D.

So while Google Ireland Limited did make a royalty payment of around €26.5 billion that ended up in Bermuda in 2019 around half of that was further transferred to the US to cover the costs of Google technicians, engineers and developers who are behind Google’s technology.  The residual that was left in Bermuda was subject to the US GILTI tax.

However, Google does nothing in Bermuda to justify the profits earned by Google Ireland Holdings.  In recent years, the OECD, through their ongoing BEPS project, have been proposed updates to transfer pricing guidelines that would ensure that the location where a company’s profit is reported better matches the location of the substance that generates that profit.  Google’s structure with $13 billion of profit in Bermuda in 2019 did not align with that.

The changes implemented through the OECD in relation to profits linked to intangible assets such as those produced by R&D are summarised as DEMPE – does a company do sufficient development, enhancement, maintenance, protection or exploitation of the intangible asset do justify the profit allocated to it?

Google Ireland Holdings does nothing so there is no way it had sufficient DEMPE functions to justify the profits allocated to it.  This means that payments made to Google Ireland Holdings would not be tax deductible.  It is these changes to transfer pricing guidelines that have brought an end to structures like these.  For Google this happened at the end of 2019.

Here a paragraph from The Irish Times article that is actually correct. It is a copy and paste of a statement from Google.

“In December 2019, in line with the OECD’s base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) conclusions and changes to US and Irish tax laws, we simplified our corporate structure and started licensing our IP from the US, not Bermuda. The accounts filed today cover the 2019 financial year, before we made those changes.”

So, the Irish company still has to pay for the rights to use Google’s technology but now those payments go direct to the US instead of ending up in Bermuda.  This is as it should be.  The US should not have allowed a cost-sharing agreement that allowed the profits from activities undertaken within the US to leak out. 

When they did leak out the US wanted their MNCs to “exhaust all remedies” to minimise the amount of foreign tax they paid.  Locating the profits in Bermuda was US companies complying with the recommendations of the IRS. 

This is from an IRS note that sets out what US MNCs are expected to do if they wished to avoid double taxation:

The United States taxes income on a worldwide basis. To prevent double taxation, under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) U.S. taxpayers are allowed a credit for foreign income taxes paid. However, the ability to credit foreign income taxes paid is limited. Pursuant to Treasury Reg. § 1.901-2(e)(1) U.S. companies may not obtain credits for foreign taxes paid in which they are not legally compelled to pay. If the U.S. Treasury were to allow foreign tax credits (FTCs) without requiring U.S. taxpayers to effectively and practically reduce their foreign tax payments as legally imposed, taxpayers would have no incentive to challenge any foreign tax, whether or not properly imposed. As a result, foreign tax costs may potentially be improperly shifted to the United States. 

As a general rule under Treas. Reg. Section 1.901-2(e)(5)(i), taxpayers cannot claim foreign tax credits for amounts paid to foreign taxing authorities where they have failed to exhaust all effective and practical remedies (including competent authority procedures where applicable).

So what can appear as egregious tax avoidance from, say, a European perspective can be seen as simply ensuring tax payments are maximised from a US perspective.  The US wanted their MNCs to locate their foreign profits in no-tax jurisdictions such as Bermuda.  This ensured that US payments were maximised, albeit that the US had a terrible record of actually collecting this tax.

The updated transfer pricing rules means that restrictions have rightfully been placed on companies reporting their profits in jurisdictions where they have no substance.  Google has responded this need to better align its profit with its substance by licensing its IP from the US and not Bermuda and this has changed how its profit is taxed.

What has been the effect of this in Ireland?  In reality, there is very change.  The Irish company is still paying for the technology it uses but the destination of those payments has changed.  We can see this from balance of payments data.

Royalty Imports to United States 2008-2020

Whoa!  For pretty all of the last decade royalty payments from Ireland to the US were around €2 billion a quarter.  They skyrocketed in 2020 and, all told, around €52 billion of royalty payments went from Ireland to the US.  It is more than just Google that have moved to licensing their technology for international markets from the US.  Facebook have too.

This means that in 2020 the trading companies in Ireland continued to collect tens of billions in revenue from selling advertising on Google’s and Facebook’s platforms.  For the rights to sell the advertising, their Irish subsidiaries paid for the technology they are using and these payments are now being directed to the where the DEMPE activities that produce the technologies are located: the United States.  These payments may add 0.1 or even 0.2 per cent to 2020 US GDP.

But I wonder how the Irish reports will butcher their “analysis” of Google’s 2020 accounts in Ireland when they are published this time next year?  Because all the evidence is that butcher it they will. It seems “most read” or “most likes” is more important than “most accurate”.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The non-financial corporate sector in the institutional sector accounts

There are lots of reasons not the look at the figures for Ireland’s non-financial corporate sector in the quarterly institutional sector accounts (ISAs).  They are the figures that are most likely to be revised when the National Income and Expenditure (NIE) accounts are published in the summer.  And a much more information breakdown (by domestic, foreign-owned and redomiciled PLCs) will be published with the annual ISAs in the autumn. 

So, without expected it to be any more revealing that staring into a puddle here are the latest figures for the NFC sector.  First, the current account:

NFC Sector Current Account 2016-2020

Lots of big numbers as can be expected given the scale of the MNCs that operate in the sector.  However, most of the 2020 changes are fairly modest (at least they are in this release anyway).

We can see that compensation of employees paid by NFCs held up fairly well in 2020 only showing a decline of 2.5 per cent or €1.7 billion.  However, this was supported by the government’s wage subsidy schemes and subsidies on production received were up almost 500 per cent. The (mainly domestic) firms receiving these subsidies used them to support the wages of their employees.

Amidst all the big number we see the continued rise in Corporation Tax payments from this sector.  In 2020, the NFC sector paid €9.6 billion of Corporation Tax up from €8.4 billion in 2019. 

Another item worth noting is the continuing rise in the amount of interest paid by the NFC sector.  The interest amount in the ISAs rose a further €2 billion in 2020.  This may be linked to the onshoring of tens of billions of IP assets by US MNCs.

NFC Sector Capital Account 2016-2020

The figures in the capital account are even more murky – particularly those in the lower panel showing capital formation, acquisition of non-produced assets and net borrowing.

The NFC sector in Ireland has been doing an enormous amount of capital formation expenditure in recent years.  This has been to the extent that a €50 billion drop in NFC investment is of concern to no one.  This is because the main reason for the wild fluctuations in the GFCF has been IP onshoring by US MNCs.  These transactions can be worth tens of billions but their impact on the overall economy is limited.

The lower panel shows that their has also been significant expenditure on the acquisition of non-produced assets.  Again this is linked to IP onshoring but is IP that is not the result of R&D activity.  The assets here include licenses and marketing assets such as customer lists.  This shows a large drop in 2020, but, like capital spending, is a figure that is subject to revision in the NIE.

This means that the bottom line is not informative either.  The net borrowing position of the NFC sector may have improved by more than €70 billion but most of this is due to reduced onshoring of IP by US MNCs.  We’ll get a much better picture of what is happening in the business sector in Ireland, and most importantly the domestic business sector, as the CSO works through it release schedule for the year.

The government sector in the institutional sector accounts

The CSO will publish the 2020 Government Finance Statistics (GFS) in the next few weeks but we can get a preliminary look at what they will say from the Institutional Sector Accounts (ISAs) that were published last week.

Here’s the government sector current account for the five years to 2020.

Government Sector Current Account 2016-2020

For 2020, the most significant changes were subsidies paid (+€4 billion), social benefits paid (+€6 billion) and consumption expenditure on goods and services (+€5 billion).  All told, these contributed to a €16 billion deterioration in the current account position of the government sector.

One of the remarkable things is that all of these changes were on the expenditure side with revenue holding up.  There was a decline in taxes on products and production.  Taxes on products (such as VAT and Excise Duty) were down €2.5 billion with taxes on productions (such as commercial rates) down just under €1 billion.  Some of this fall was just to reduced activity while some was due to forbearance and payment breaks.

Taxes on income and wealth rose in 2020. This was entirely due to increased Corporation Tax from non-financial corporates which rose another €1 billion but taxes on income from the household sector (Income Tax and USC) were essentially unchanged in 2020.  Social contributions received (mainly PRSI) were also largely unchanged in 2020.

On the spending side some of the other changes were the eight per cent rise in compensation of employees paid by the government sector with this almost reach €25 billion in 2020.  It might be surprising the the GDP of the government sector rose seven per cent in 2020 (schools closed etc.) but in the absence of prices the value added of the government sector is mainly measured by the wages paid.  Finally from the current account, we can also see that the interest bill continued to fall and the interest amount in the sector accounts falling by a further €1 billion in 2020.

There were also limited changes in the capital account.

Government Sector Capital Account 2016-2020

The most significant change here was the further €1.5 billion rise in government gross capital formation in 2020 to reach €9.7 billion.

There was little change in most other items in the current account meaning that the overall change in the government’s non-financial position was a deterioration of €18 billion.  The government sector went from a modest net lending position of €1.5 billion in 2019 to a net borrowing position of €16.5 billion in 2020.

To the extent the the increased spending highlighted in the current account is temporary this deficit will fall as the need for emergency measures falls.  But if some of those represent permanent spending increases, as is likely, some of the deficit will be persistent.  It is that permanent increase in spending rather than any necessity to “pay the COVID bill” that will impact subsequent budgetary plans.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The household sector in 2020

The CSO have published the Q4 2020 update of the non-financial Institutional Sector Accounts.  While there may be some revisions when the annual accounts are published later in the year, the quarterly data can be used to get preliminary figures for the year as a whole. 

Here’s the household sector current account for the past four years as well as the annual change in 2020.

Household Sector Current Account 2017-2020

The bottom section tells us that the disposable income of the household sector rose by just over four per cent in 2020.  The biggest reflection of the restrictions that were in place for much of the year is the nine per cent reduction in consumption expenditure.  This meant that the gross saving of the household sector almost doubled in 2020, reaching €28 billion and giving an unusually high savings rate of 23 per cent.

Although it looks like there was relatively serene progression in the aggregate income of the household sector in 2020 there was obviously a lot going on above that.  In overall terms, the compensation of employees received by the household sector was essentially flat in 2020 showing a fall of just –0.3 per cent.  This, however, masks a difference across sectors with all sectors bar the government sector showing a fall in 2020.

Compensation of employees from the government sector rose a further eight per cent in 2020 to almost reach €25 billion.  The increase since 2015 is almost 30 per cent.

GG CoE Paid 2006-2020

The nearly €2 billion rise in compensation of employees from the government sector almost fully offset the reductions elsewhere.  And those reductions would have been even larger were it not for the various wage subsidy schemes introduced which provided a subsidy to firms to support their wage payments to staff.

A little further down, we see that social benefits received by the household sector (excluding benefits in kind) from the government sector jumped from €24 billion in 2019 to €30 billion in 2020.  This increase was primarily driven by the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) though even the absence of this scheme there would have been an increase in these transfer as most, but not all, of the people impact would have been eligible for existing income supports.

And those are the most significant changes in the table.  It looks like there’s something going on with the FISIM adjustment but it seems to largely net out across interest paid and interest received.  There has been a reduction in contributions to private pensions in recent years. Social contributions paid to the financial sector have gone from €7.3 billion in 2018 to €5.9 billion in 2020.

This is perhaps surprising given the general increase in savings behaviour in 2020.  However, there was still a greater amount contributed to private pensions funds then paid out in benefits from those funds – the adjustment for pension entitlements in the second-last row was +€1.4 billion.

We can turn to the capital account to see what happened to see how the rest of the savings were used.

Household Sector Capital Accounts 2017-2020

Gross capital formation by the household sector was down in 2020, falling from €7.2 billion in 2019 to €6.8 billion in 2020.  This is probably not a surprise given that the main capital expense of the household sector is housing (purchases of new units and refurbishments of existing dwellings).  Restrictions would have reduced output in the construction sector.

The bottom line shows that most of the savings was carried through the capital account.  Net lending by the household sector exceeded €20 billion in 2020.  This means that most of the additional saving made its way to the financial accounts: higher deposits, lower loans and maybe increased investment in other financial assets but higher deposits and lower loans are likely to dominate.

To conclude here is the savings minus investment positions of the household and government sectors.  The figures shown are four-quarter moving sums.

Gross Savings minus Investment for Gov and HH 1999-2020

The turmoil of 2020 is clearly seen but is also noticeable is that as the year progressed the [S – I] deficit of the government sector was growing faster than the [S – I] surplus of the household sector.  The overall position across the two sector was still positive: if necessary the deficit of the government could be funded from domestic sources. 

Maybe the next 12 months will see an erosion of that savings behaviour possibly to fund a consumption boom which, in turn, will boost the government’s position.  It doesn’t even need the accumulated savings to be unleashed, just a reduction in the savings rate.