Tuesday, October 14, 2014

14/10/2014: Expect the Expected: pre-Budget 2015

Pre-Budget Budget... what to expect based on leaks so far:

Big Items:

1) Corporate Tax Regime changes: we can expect some phasing out to be announced for the notorious Double-Irish Tax Scheme.

This is one of the most criticized parts of the Irish tax code. Double Irish a complex corporate structure whereby a multinational can channel revenues to an Irish subsidiary, which then pays royalties on Intellectual Property to another company resident in Ireland, but tax resident in a tax haven, e.g. Bermuda.

To close the loophole, we can expect the Government will announce that all companies registered in Ireland will be automatically deemed tax resident in Ireland. Such a change will make Irish tax law fully aligned with the US and UK systems.

Since MNCs employ around 160,000 in this country, or roughly 8.6 percent of our workforce, the impact can potentially be significant. Which means Minister Noonan will have to be careful in closing the loophole. It is expected he will off-set the impact by expanding the R&D and Intellectual Property taxation benefits.

It is worth remembering that in October 2012, Michael Noonan solemnly declared that changing the Double Irish 'situation' was not within his remit. Direct quote: "Mu understanding of the "double Irish" is that while it exists, it cannot be remediated by changes in Irish tax law".

2) Households: Budgets 2009-2014 have lifted tax (direct and indirect) take by EUR11.7 billion. Meanwhile, on spending side, all years of austerity have basically meant that our Government spending (excluding banks measures) stayed relatively flat on pre-crisis levels.

There has been re-allocation of some spending from services to paying interest on our massive debt, which or course means there were cuts to some specific services. But we had no significant improvements in public sector efficiencies and we had no significant changes in how the State does business:

  • Semi-state companies continue to inflate their books by charging higher and higher prices, blessed by captive regulators;
  • State employment, pay and promotion policies remain detached from productivity;
  • State pensions remain unfunded, private pensions becoming de-funded;
  • State health system continues to crumble, while private subsidy to this system is being eroded;
  • Management in public services remains excessively bloated and inefficient, compared to front-office staff which is getting worked harder.

All of which means that 'austerity' years have shifted the burden of state even more directly onto ordinary income earners.

Now, with the economy expected to grow by 4.7 percent in 2014 and deficit expected to fall thanks to the national accounts reclassifications and booming MNCs tax arbitrage, Minister Noonan has some room for minor giveaways.

We can expect that he will cut income tax burden, possibly by lowering the top 52 percent tax rate or raising the income threshold for that rate. Another possible target is much despised USC which currently hits workers on earnings from €10,036.

Keep in mind, whilst the Government will claim credit for any tax reductions and austerity easing, these were made possible, primarily, by the EU-mandated changes in our National Accounts. On the other hand, keep also in mind that the Troika-demanded water charging is introduced as double-taxation measure on foot of Government-own design.

To appease trade unions and other 'Social Partners' pivotal to the Labor Party electoral base, he could also announce the hiring of more teachers and increase some benefits. One point he will probably address is the kick backs to taxpayers and vocal interest groups in terms of reduced cost of water provision. Rumour has it, he will:

  • Create additional EUR100 credit for the elderly for water services; and
  • Announce tax relief on water charges.


Net outcomes: We are some 18 months away from elections and the Government desperately needs to test waters to see what response from electorate they can get if they start 'McCreeviasing' their Budgets. Over months to come, the Government will be closely watching changes in opinion polls as a function of Budget 2015 'easing' of the austerity. Which is all about one thing: instead of 'stimulating the economy', the Government is attempting to gauge the extent of the Budget easing stimulus on electorate.

Still, keep in mind: Budget 2015 is likely to cut spending and raise revenues by some EUR800-900 million. So small giveaways will mask still substantial austerity. Which means that Budget 2015 is going to be about reallocating once again the burden on budgetary adjustments. Pensioners (already massive winners during deflationary period in the economy and low on debt burden courtesy of the previous property boom) are going to gain. Special interest groups are going to gain. General economy, ordinary working households are going to lose.

'McCreevization' by one half, then...

Little pesky details: Budget 2015 is, in part, going to be based on some non-trivial economic assumptions. In best practice terms, these should be conservative, rather than optimistic. But in Irish reality, the champagne of big 7.7% headline GDP print in Q2 2014 is starting to hit some heads in the Department of Finance. Government's forecast for 2015 Budget is for 3.6% GDP and 3.3% GNP growth. Seems conservative compared to H1 2014 figures, but is it conservative enough? Underlying these, there is a forecast for exports growth of 5% y/y in 2015. Again, might be a tad optimistic. And we also have forecast for accelerated jobs creation over 2015 +2.2% growth) compared to 2014 (+1.8% growth), despite the fact that the Government is forecasting slower economic growth in 2015 (3.6% GDP and 3.3% GNP) than in 2014 (4.7% GDP and 3.1% GNP).  Interestingly, in SPU 2014 (April 2014), the Government estimated employment growth to be 2.2% in 2014 and 2.0% in 2015. This is now revised down to 1.8% for 2014 and up to 2.2% in 2015. Labour force growth was penciled in at 0.5% in 2014 and 0.8% in 2015, but by Budget 2015 it was revised down to -0.1% in 2014 and up to 0.9% for 2015.

Past optimism is being reloaded forward? Or did someone miss their cup of milk before going to bed?

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