Tuesday, April 18, 2023

The last insight into Apple’s use of capital allowances?

As is well known Apple revised its international structure in 2015.  Since then we have been tracking the impact of this via the annual publication of the consolidated accounts for the group of subsidiaries headed by Apple’s central international holding subsidiary, Apple Operations International (AOI).

As will be set out here, we may now have reached the last insight into Apple’s use of capital allowances.  The full picture is provided across by combining the previous posts as there are some elements in each that are not repeated here.

Where in the world is AOI?

One we will repeat is the location of AOI. As noted in the opening paragraph, the analysis deals with the consolidated accounts for the group of subsidiaries headed by AOI.  The accounts show that this group contains close to 80 subsidiaries, across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania. The accounts essentially cover all of Apple’s activities outside the Americas.

AOI is sometimes referred to as Apple’s main Irish subsidiary. AOI is at the top of the group of Apple’s subsidiaries outside the Americas.  And AOI is a company that was established in Ireland. But that does not mean that it is resident here.

We know from the 2012 US Senate investigation that under Apple’s previous structure, that though AOI’s functions were all carried out in the US, AOI itself was “stateless”; it did not have a tax residency.  Apple achieved this because AOI was not registered in the US where it was managed and controlled, and it was not managed and controlled in Ireland where it was registered.

When Apple revised it’s structure it eliminated AOI’s stateless nature.  Document leaks subsequently shows that AOI became a resident of Jersey in the Channel Island. See reporting here.  Jersey has a corporate income tax.  But the rate of that tax is zero percent.  Obviously, this is from a few years ago. But there has been nothing to indicate that AOI residency has changed since.

We know that Ireland is central to Apple’s current structure, but this happens in subsidiaries beneath AOI and not necessarily in AOI itself. AOI is the holding company for those, and, as noted, other worldwide subsidiaries.  The accounts show that the group headed by AOI had an average of 56,000 employees in 2022.  We would have to remove the first digit to get close to the number of those who are in Ireland.  So, all of the subsequent analysis refers to the overall performance of AOI and the group of nearly 80 worldwide subsidiaries beneath it.

How is the AOI group doing?

The AOI group is hugely profitable.  This is due to the cost-share agreement the group has with the US parent, Apple Inc, which grants the AOI group the rights to sell Apple’s products in markets outside the Americas.  The AOI groups gets this right by paying around half of Apple’s total R&D expense. In 2022, the AOI group had an R&D expense of $15.5bn most of which would have been paid to Apple Inc. which oversees the R&D the bulk of which is carried out in the US.

AOI Income Statement 2017-2022

From that cost-share payment, the AOI group had sales of over $220 billion and generated an operating profit of close to $70 billion.  There is no way Apple Inc. would enter into a similar arrangement with a third party. 

How much tax does the AOI group pay?

We can see that the provision for income taxes has been around $11.0 to $11.5 billion in each of the past two years.  To repeat another point from the earlier posts, a company making a provision for taxes is not the same as a company paying taxes.  We can get a better indication of how much tax the AOI group pays from the cash flow statement.

AOI Cash Flow Statement 2017-2022

In 2022, the AOI group made $7.7 billion of cash tax payments in the countries in which it operated.  That is lower than the provision for income taxes in the income statement but is a huge increase on the $1.4 billion of cash tax payments made in 2017. [We do not have access to AOI’s accounts for earlier years.]

Why are cash tax payments lower than the tax provision?

The earlier posts have gone through this. It is due to the AOI group having large amounts of deferred tax assets.  A significant amount of the tax provision does not result in a charge on cash it results in a charge on the deferred tax asset.

AOI Balance Sheet 2016-2022

In the above, we can deferred tax assets reducing from $25.7 billion at the end of 2016 to $5.0 billion at the of 2022.

How much tax does the AOI group pay in Ireland?

As with the previous posts, there is no direct way of establishing this from the presentation of the accounts.  The likelihood is a lot but firm conclusions are difficult to reach.  Here is the tax reconciliation statement from the consolidated accounts for the AOI group.

AOI Tax Reconcilliation 2017-2022

First, we note that the reference rate used is 12.5 per cent, which suggests that AOI is the main tax jurisdiction for the group. But it is not the only one.  The largest item in this table is now the “difference in effective tax rates on overseas earnings”.  It is not clear how significant it is but in the latest accounts this item has become “effect of different tax rates”.  The $2,335m figure for 2021 is used with both descriptions.

This description shown above would imply that a significant portion of the group’s profit is taxed at higher rates in other countries, though this depends on the interpretation of “overseas earnings” (words which are now dropped).

For 2022, the adjustment was $3.3 billion above whatever would be in the baseline tax charge at the 12.5 per cent reference rate.  If the effective tax rate on the relevant was 25 per cent then there would have been around $6.5 billion of tax on $25 billion of profit.  But that depends on the actual effective tax rate on those profits.

As we did last year we can pick up this thread in the overall accounts for Apple in its 10K filing with the SEC.  Here is the breakdown of the company’s entire tax provision in its latest annual report.

Apple 10K Provision for Income Tax 2022 - 2

In broad terms, the foreign (i.e. non-US) pre-tax earnings and the provision for foreign taxes align with those we see in the consolidated statements of the AOI group.  In the 10K accounts, foreign would also include activities in countries in the Americas excluding the US, whereas the AOI group covers Apple’s activities outside the Americas.

Anyway, reflecting what is in the AOI group’s accounts, we can see a large increase in the provision for foreign taxes in Apple’s overall taxes.  It rose from $6.5 billion in 2020 to around $12 billion in each of the last two years.  And this corresponds with the big jump in the adjustment for the “difference in effective tax rates on overseas earnings” or “the effect of different rates” in the AOI group’s accounts.

Something has happened in recent years that has led to a big jump in tax somewhere.  Looking at the 10K statement we can see that this is not the US: the increase shows there as an increase in the provision for foreign taxes.  While looking at the accounts for the AOI group suggests that this is not Ireland: the increase shows there as an increase in tax overseas earnings, assuming that “overseas” is outside Ireland.  We can really only be sure that it is outside the US.  We do not know what “overseas” means in the AOI group’s accounts.  And whatever has caused this seems to have gone under the radar.

We are now left with about $5 billion of the provision for taxes in the AOI group’s accounts that could be in Ireland.

What amount capital allowances are left?

The previous posts go through the 2015 acquisition of a now Irish-resident subsidiary in the AOI group that acquired the license to sell Apple’s products outside the Americas.  This huge acquisition, probably not far from $240 billion, resulted in a huge amount of expenditure that became eligible as a tax deduction. 

Under Section 291A of the Tax Consolidated Act this is achieved via capital allowances – the amount of the capital expenditure that can be deducted each year when taxable income is being determined.

A deferred tax asset of $30 billion ($240 billion of capital allowances multiplied by 12.5 per cent) was put on the balance sheet of a company in the AOI group when this transaction occurred.  Each year a large amount of the AOI group’s tax provision is charged against this deferred tax asset.  We can see the evolution of this in the following table.

AOI Deferred Tax Assets 2017-2022

We can’t go back to when the transaction occurred at the start of 2015, but we can see that at the end of the 2016 financial year, the AOI group had $22.6 billion of deferred tax assets from “Intra-Group Transactions” (which would describe one subsidiary buying a license from another subsidiary).

We can see that $4.4 billion were further used in 2017 and 2018 with $3.3 billion used in the four years since.  All told, the value of the capital allowances has declined from $30 billion with just $812 million remaining by the end of the 2022 financial year.  As this corresponds to around one-quarter of the recent annual usage, it will be the case that income generated in the first quarter of the 2023 financial year will fully exhaust the capital allowances.  This will expose all of the profit from the license held in Ireland to tax.

And we can already see evidence of this in Irish tax receipts.  Companies pay their Corporation Tax via preliminary payments made in months six and 11 of their financial year with their full tax return due nine months after the year ends.  For large companies these preliminary payments should correspond to 90 per cent of the final tax liability.  A company with a September year end will make its first preliminary payment in March with the second following in August.

Here are the month Corporation Tax receipts in March for recent years:

CT Revenues March 2009-2023 Bar

Prior to 2022, March was not a significant month for Corporation Tax revenues.  This has changed in the last two years and a link with Apple seems likely.  The increase in 2022 could be linked to the increase in the AOI group’s profits, with the profit of the Irish licensing subsidiary perhaps rising significantly above that which could be offset by capital allowances with the further increase in 2023 perhaps due to the exhaustion of those capital allowances now taking place. 

To date, there has been no evidence in Ireland of a significant Apple restructure. Absent that, we can expect to see strong August receipts in due course.  It is also possible we might see some changes in Ireland’s national accounts – due to the exhaustion of the capital allowances – and that is something we may return to.

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