The taxation of profits from intangible assets and Ireland’s contribution to the EU Budget

In last weekend’s Sunday Independent Richard Curran had a piece the start of which looked at a measure passed via Financial Resolution No. 3 on the night of the Budget speech. He says:

Multinationals make very real profits from charging for the use of their IP. In 2015, the trading profit made by multinationals in Ireland on their IP shot up by €26bn. This was completely offset by capital allowances they received - basically reducing their taxable profit on that to close to zero.

To put it in perspective if we had allowed just 80pc of that to be set against capital allowances, we could have taxed 20pc of it at 12.5pc. It could have yielded around €650m in tax.

The measure is linked to the recently published Review of Ireland’s Corporation Tax Code and Richard Curran’s piece throws light on most of the key issues, except one: the link to Ireland’s contribution to the EU budget.  This is referenced in paragraph 9.3.11 of the review:

Figures from the Revenue Commissioners and Tancred (2017) show that there was a €26 billion increase in intangible-asset related gross trading profits in 2015. This was offset by an increase in the amount of capital allowances for intangible assets of a similar scale. These gross trading profits are included in Ireland’s Gross National Income but the use of capital allowances results in a much smaller amount being included in the taxable income base for Ireland’s Corporation Tax. Given Ireland’s contribution to the EU Budget is calculated by reference to Gross National Income, this increase in profits has an impact.

Assessing this impact was beyond the scope of the review but is something which the seven-page note linked below attempts to address.  With lots of moving parts precision is difficult to achieve but the broad elements of the issue should hopefully stand out.

A note on intangibles, the taxation of their profits, and Ireland’s contribution to the EU budget

Update: Here is a bullet-point summary

  • In 2015 intangible-asset-related gross trading profits of multinationals operating in Ireland increased by €26 billion.
  • In the same year claims for capital allowances related to expenditure on intangible assets increased by €26 billion.
  • No Corporation Tax is due on the gross profits offset by capital allowances
  • Using estimates from the Department of Finance implies that these figures have risen to around €35 billion for 2017.
  • These untaxed profits are included in Ireland’s Gross National Income which adds about €200 million to the country’s contribution to the EU budget.
  • A cap on the amount of capital allowances that can be used in a single year is to be introduced for new claims for capital allowances on intangibles.
  • Based on patterns for the past two years the Department of Finance forecast that this will result in €150 million of additional Corporation Tax being paid in 2018.
  • The Revenue Commissioners figures for 2015 and the Department if Finances estimates of the impact of recent onshoring imply that  intangible-asset-related gross trading profits are expected to be around €40 billion in 2018 (with a further €36 million added to the EU contribution).
  • If the cap applied to all claims, existing and new, then the additional Corporation Tax to be collected in 2018 could be up to €1 billion using the figure published by Revenue and estimated by Finance.
  • If companies who are expected to move IP here in future years are happy to pay the tax now why doesn’t the same apply for companies who already have IP here?

The Irish labour market and wages

The robust performance of the Irish labour market over the past number of years offers the most tangible evidence of the recovery in the Irish economy. With unemployment falling and vacancies rising, an obvious question that arises is the extent to which the current pace of growth can be maintained. Today, colleagues in the Central Bank published a paper examining this very issue, bringing together a range of labour market indicators to assess the current state of play including prospects for wages over the short-term. We also revisit Okun’s law and the Phillips curve drawing on the latest Irish data. We hope that this research proves useful as 2017 draws to a close. The paper is titled ‘The Labour Market and Wage Growth after a Crisis’ and can also be accessed by clicking this link.

Muiris MacCarthaigh on Budget 2018

Guest post below from Muiris MacCarthaigh from Queen’s University Belfast:

Budget 2018 and a tale of two Departments

The budget to be published this Tuesday will be the first since 2010 to be prepared and delivered by a single Minister, Paschal Donohoe T.D., who holds both Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform portfolios.

As will be widely remembered by readers of this blog, following the 2011 general election the Department of Finance was essentially split in two, with that Department retaining control over taxation and reform of the financial services sector. (Indeed for a while consideration was given to renaming it the Department of Finance and Taxation). The ‘spending’ side of the Department was removed and combined with public service reform and industrial relations into the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER).  As well as providing for a significant reallocation of central government functions, and an organizational focus for administrative reform, DPER served the useful political purpose of allowing the Labour Party hold another central government portfolio.  This also gave it co-equal status with Fine Gael at the Economic Management Council or ‘War Cabinet’.

What is not widely appreciated is the enormity of the task faced by officials in the Department of Finance over the pre and post-election period to prepare for and then execute the process of creating the new Deparment, all in a matter of weeks. When beginning the research for my recently published book on DPER over the 2011-16 period, the sheer scale of this undertaking quickly stood out.  Led by a small group of officials, it involved trawling the Irish statute book for all primary and secondary legislation concerning the responsibilities of the Minister for Finance in law from 1922 onwards (as well as some pre-1922 treasury-related functions), before that Department could be disaggregated into two.

The range of responsibilities for which the Minister for Finance had a legal responsibility included such diverse issues as provisions for compensation applications arising from property damage during the 1921-23 Independence and Civil War period, to consenting on borrowings for capital investment for commercial state enterprises. All told, it resulted in a process involving the transfer of over 4000 specific legal functions originally assigned to the Minister of Finance.

In respect of Budgets, a number of interviewees for my study identified how the institutional split between revenue-raising and expenditure functions had created a useful ‘buffering’ effect on demands for increased expenditure by line Departments. Prior to DPER’s existence, the relevant section in the Department of Finance assessed new expenditure proposals from a line Department, and the merits of raising taxation or other forms of revenue to support the measure were also considered in that same Department. With the decoupling, appeals to DPER for extra resources fell largely on deaf ears as the Department and its Minister had no say in taxation matters.

The quality of engagements between DPER and other Departments were also deemed to have taken a step change by virtue of the economic evaluations provided for them by the IGEES.  Additionally, the strong relationship between Ministers Howlin and Noonan were consistently referred to as being vital to the Irish crisis response, including budgetary coherence, and by proxy to the stability of the government as a whole.

At the launch of my book, Minister Donohoe identified that the Taoiseach had been keen to maintain the two Departments when announcing his Cabinet following his election in June. Whether this was to preserve the integrity of DPER’s reform agenda, to place coordination of fiscal and budgetary policy in one Minister, or to avoid accusations of a return to pre-crisis arrangements for government departments is hard to say. As is how long DPER will continue to operate as a separate Deparment .The economic crisis may be a decade old, but its effects on budgetary policy and the organisation of Irish government continue to be felt.

Dr Muiris MacCarthaigh is Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Administration at Queen’s University Belfast. His new book, Public Sector Reform in Ireland: Countering Crisis, has just been published by Palgrave.

What if it was the Europeans picking the cherries?

Outside the UK, where words apparently mean whatever you want them to, it is universally understood that in order to avoid a border on the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland (and preferably the UK as a whole) needs to stay in an equivalent of the existing EU customs union, and the European Single Market. Inside the UK, on the other hand, it seems to be commonly accepted that the UK needs to leave the Single Market because it has to restrict freedom of movement.(An argument that I have never accepted, but that is another matter.)

And so we have a problem.

In fact, however, the only bit of the European Single Market that the UK really has to stay in to avoid a border is the single market for goods — this would of course require it to apply European goods standards, accept all relevant ECJ rulings, and so forth.

Quite properly, the EU is ruling out cherry picking: the UK cannot stay in the bits of the Single Market it likes, and not in others. But what if it were ourselves, rather than the British, who picked the cherries?

In particular: it would be completely unacceptable for the UK to remain in the single markets for capital and services, while excluding itself from the single market for labour. This is, we all understand, never going to happen. And I suspect that they wouldn’t be allowed to remain in the single market for goods alone, either, and that proposing this is therefore a non-starter.

But I’m going to propose it anyway, in the full knowledge that I will be (probably quite properly) shot down, since it seems to have a few things going for it.

First, we would avoid borders, not just within Ireland but more generally, and this would help businesses across the continent. Supply chains would be unaffected, and so forth.

Second, the British would not have cherry picked — something that we could never allow a mere third country to do. We Europeans would have done the picking, on the grounds that it suited us to do so; and that seems to me like an important distinction.

Third, however, the Brexiteers would be able to say to their voters that they had restricted freedom of movement.

Fourth, however, this deal would only be made available on the basis that the UK also stayed in a customs union with the EU, since that would be required to avoid borders, which is the whole purpose of the exercise. So EU politicians would be able to point out, to their own populations, that the UK (a) was unable to do its own trade deals with other countries (b) had to accept the jurisdiction of the ECJ or an equivalent, such as the EFTA court, as it affects the single market for goods (c) had been unable to cherry pick as it saw fit.

Fifth, everyone could explain to their electorates that they had had to make these compromises in order to help preserve peace in Ireland.

Sixth, Ireland would avoid a border.

This would not be a great deal for the UK. Yes, they would get the frictionless trade that they say they want, and that they can’t get outside the Single Market and a customs union with the EU. They would keep their car industry, remain in Airbus supply chains, and all the rest of it. And that ought to be something that they would welcome. But: they would lose access to the single markets for services and capital, as long as they remained outside the single market for labour. They would lose jobs and tax revenue from the City. As a service economy, this is not the deal that they would have chosen: the UK would not be better off outside the EU than it is at present. But such a deal would be a lot better for them than the rather shallow, goods-only, friction-creating FTA arrangement that the UK seems to be heading for right now (if it gets even that). And they would always have the option of going for a deeper arrangement involving all four freedoms, if they decided that that is what they wanted at a later date.

What could the UK say on the border before getting to the second stage?

You sometimes hear the British say that they can’t make progress on the border before getting to the second stage of talks. While superficially plausible, the claim strikes me as disingenuous: there are surely several things that they could say right now that would make a lot of difference. For example, they could pledge that

  1. The United Kingdom will remain in an equivalent of the customs union and the single market, if that is required in order to avoid a hard border
  2. Northern Ireland will remain in an equivalent of the customs union and the single market, if that is required in order to avoid a hard border
  3. They will change their red lines regarding the nature of their exit from the EU and their future relationship with it, if that is required in order to avoid a hard border

As I think about it though, perhaps the key thing they should say is that (a) they accept that a customs union is defined as a group of countries surrounded by a common external tariff barrier and border; (b) that in addition, the European Single Market has always been and needs to be protected by an external border of some sort in order to maintain its product standards and so forth; (c) that they accept that Ireland will remain a full member of the EU, and hence of its customs union and single market; and (d) that there will therefore continue to be a border between Ireland and all third countries or regions not belonging to the European Single Market and a customs union with the EU.

None of these points is a matter of opinion, or subject to negotiation. (1) to (3) are a matter of fact or definition, and (4) is a logical consequence of (1)-(3). And it is very difficult to accept that you are negotiating with someone in good faith if they refuse to accept that black is not white and that 2 + 2 = 4. Right now the UK seems to most outsiders to be talking out of both corners of its mouth, claiming it doesn’t want an Irish border, while preparing to do things that will require one. How can you negotiate seriously with such a country?

If the UK were to accept (1) through (4), publicly, then its claim to want to avoid a hard border in Ireland — including any physical infrastructure, something that Mrs May very helpfully added in Florence — would sound rather different. (Right now, it sounds like hypocritical posturing.) Publicly accepting (1) through (4), and saying that they were willing to do whatever it takes to avoid a hard border, involving any sort of physical infrastructure, would mark a big step forward in my opinion. And it doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for.

 

Conference on Exchange Traded Funds

The Central Bank of Ireland will be hosting a Conference entitled “ETFs – Stability and Growth” on 29 November 2017 in the Convention Centre Dublin.

Are ETFs still the safe, simple, transparent product they are understood to be? Is the ETF structure appropriate for any type of product? Should there be limits? What impact do ETFs have on their underlying market and what liquidity concerns are relevant and valid in an ETF context?

Participation is free of charge and you can register your interest in attending by emailing ETF@centralbank.ie

Final details will be available on our website.

We look forward to seeing you and to engaging in a frank and open discussion on ETFs!

Rewriting the rules

From an Irish perspective the most significant announcement made yesterday by Commissioner Vestager was in relation to Amazon not Apple.  The Commission announced that Luxembourg had granted €250 million of illegal sate aid to Amazon.  The structure used by Amazon in Luxembourg is close to a replica of that used by US companies in Ireland.  It is a double-luxembourgish.  Here is the Commission’s description of the Amazon structure:

Continue reading “Rewriting the rules”