Caterpillar at the US Senate

The latest company to come under the spotlight of the US Senate Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigations is heavy-goods manufacturer, Caterpillar.  Here is the report prepared by the Sub-Committee staff in advance of today’s hearing.  There is also a statement from the Committee Chairman, Sen. Carl Levin (D).

The hearing will feature three panels of witnesses and will be streamed here.  The second panel comprises some representatives from Pricewaterhousecoopers.  The Sub-Committee obtained internal documents and communications between the PwC representatives which are referenced in the report.

The key feature of the US tax code that is in question is once again are the provisions that have eroded the effectiveness of the Subpart F anti-deferral regime introduced in the 1960s for passive income earned outside the US.  Under Subpart F this should trigger an immediate tax liability regardless of whether the profits are repatriated but there are a range of provisions that allow a deferral of the tax payment as is the general case with active income.  The scheme put in place by Caterpillar avails of both the manufacturing exemption and the export exemption in the US tax code.  Features such as “check-the box” and transfer-pricing rules also play a role.  Once again there is the accusation that a US company was able to negotiate a “special tax rate” in a low-tax country.

For those whose only interest is a Ctrl-F of the Senate report here is the sole mention of Ireland:

The decline in corporate tax revenues is due in part to more corporate income being reported abroad in low-tax jurisdictions. A number of studies show that U.S. multinational corporations are moving income out of or away from the United States into low or no tax jurisdictions, including tax havens such as Ireland, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands.

Yields on Irish government bonds

It is not the first time but the estimated 10-year yield on Irish government bonds has again fallen below 3 per cent.  Here is a snap-shot of the yield curve this morning from this site.

The reasons for these historically low rates can be bounced around but it would be more useful if we could actually take advantage of them.  Ireland has an enormous public debt but the structure of it is such that very little is close to maturing and in need of rolling over.  In the EZ17 Ireland has a very low refinancing need (Latvia is excluded).


At the end of December the blended interest rate on the €22.5 billion of IMF loans that Ireland has accessed was 4.16 per cent.  These loans have a weighted average life of 7.3 years.  The above table gives an indicative rate of under 2 per cent for Irish government debt of equivalent maturity.  Two per cent of €22.5 billion is €450 million.

Replacing the official IMF loans with private funding seems attractive but the IMF loans cannot be repaid early without also triggering early repayment clauses in the €45 billion of EFSM, EFSF and bilateral loans from EU countries.  The details of these clauses are in this PQ answer.

Compared to the IMF loans, the EU loans have lower interest rates and much longer maturities.  Repaying them early would not be prudent given the uncertainties and possible unknowns that remain.  However, raising money now for loans which begin amortising next year anyway would only raise the funding target of the NTMA to the average EU levels (in GDP terms) as shown in the chart.  On the other hand it is not clear what impact such an action would have on interest rates but a significant impact would seem unlikely.

There are reasons on several sides for keeping the IMF as part of the ongoing Troika supervision of Ireland but are there €450 million worth of them?

Q4 2013 International Investment Position and External Debt

The CSO have published the Q4 2013 update of the IIP data.

These are important data but, as with many macro aggregates on the Irish economy, establishing meaningful trends can be difficult.  In the data the totals look enormous but the IFSC sector has foreign assets of €2,390 billion and foreign liabilities of €2,394 billion for a net external liability of just €4 billion.  It is possible to generate some ridiculously large external debt figures for Ireland by including the liabilities of the IFSC but they are wholly matched by foreign assets.

The net international investment position of the non-IFSC sector improved significantly in the final quarter of 2013, moving from –€172 billion to –€150 billion.  This measure troughed in Q4 2011 at -€196 billion.  The bulk of the –€150 billion arises from the –€116 billion net IIP of the government sector.

The net IIP of the non-IFSC sector began to improve in 2012 though obviously the position of the government sector continued to deteriorate.  However, this  was more than offset by the improvement in the net IIP of the Central Bank which fell from –€101 billion at the end of 2011 to –€37 billion now (these are the liabilities to the ESCB including TARGET2 balances).  Most of this improvement occurred in 2012.

In the most recent quarter there was a €6 billion improvement in the net IIP of the non-financial corporate sector, from –€87 billion to –€81 billion.  However, on this the release notes the following:

With the relocation of a number of group headquarters to Ireland, foreign assets of Non-Financial Companies increased by €47.5bn and foreign liabilities increased by €41.4bn resulting in a decrease of €6.1bn in the net liability to €81.2bn

Thus, all of the quarterly improvement for the sector (and half of the total quarterly improvement for the non-IFSC sector) is as a result of company re-domiciling.  To the extent that these companies have retained earnings on their balance sheets this is also likely to have impacted GNP figures for the same quarter.

Ireland’s Gross External Debt was largely unchanged at €1,604 billion, with 70 per cent of this arising from the foreign debt-instrument liabilities of the IFSC sector.  The Net External Debt after subtracting foreign assets in debt instruments was –€696 billion (i.e. an asset position). 

Removing the impact of the IFSC, the Net External Debt of the non-IFSC sector at the end of 2013 was a liability position of €92 billion.  This was €146 billion at the end of 2012 and €182 billion at the end of 2011.  Again, the improvement in 2012 was due to improvements in the Central Bank position but this did not continue into 2013.  The 2013 improvement in Net External Debt can mainly be attributed a jump in debt instrument assets under the heading “debt liabilities to affiliated enterprises”. These debt instrument assets show an increase of €30 billion over the year, all of which happened in Q4.  Again this can be attributed to the re-domiciling of firms.

As a result of the impact of the IFSC sector looking at the overall totals for Ireland is largely meaningless.  There has been some improvement in the stripped-out results for the non-IFSC sector but, recently at least, much of that can be attributed to boardroom decisions.

Barbara Solow

A friend just told me the very sad news that Barbara Solow passed away in February.

She wrote a classic book on Ireland, The Land Question and the Irish Economy, which has a good claim to being the first major cliometric work on Ireland — if by cliometric you mean economic history that is strongly informed by economic theory, and systematically uses data to back up the arguments being made. In more recent years she did terrific work on plantation slavery, which was very influential and certainly made a big impression on me. The last time I saw her was at a conference which she organised in Oxford a couple of years ago to commemorate Eric Williams, and she was as impressive as ever.

I can’t claim to have known her very well, but she was always very nice to me when I was a young Irish economic historian in Boston. She had a wonderful dry sense of humour, and produced one of the great acknowledgment footnotes of all time. Her death is a major loss for the profession, and my heart goes out to her family.

Chartbook of economic inequality

Readers of the blog may be interested in a Vox piece by Tony Atkinson and Salvatore Morelli on the Chartbook of Economic Inequality. It provides a summary of changes in inequality for 25 countries (alas not including Ireland) over a 100 year period.  If you follow the links you can get the data on an Excel basis or in chart format.  The vox link is here