Saturday, January 30, 2010

Economics 30/01/2010: Eurocoin and Obama's new-old plans

Two topics worth covering: the Eurozone leading indicator issued last week and President Obama’s new ‘Tougher on taxes’ talk to the Congress…

First, the usual monthly update on Eurocoin – a comprehensive leading indicator for Euroarea growth. After straight 12 months of rising, the indicator is now standing at the level not seen since March 2007.

This is consistent with a strong growth signal for months ahead for the Euroarea core economies.

Now to the story of the week that was not covered (at least not from this angle) in our press. In his State of the Union speech this Wednesday, President Obama said,

“To encourage ... businesses to stay within our borders, it is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in the United States of America...”

Oh, boy – this is turning into one of those typically European sagas
: occasionally, the EU is prone to produce daft laws and proposals – the Insurance Gender Directive is a good example of one, the Lisbon Agenda is another. In a typical EU-fashion, bad ideas never die. They just get dragged into the closet, rested for a couple of years and then unleashed again. Until even the daftest policies pass into power.

Well, now it is starting to look like the Obama Administration is taking the same approach.

Under current law, income earned abroad is taxed according to two separate categories: general and passive. Passive income covers capital gains, dividends, and other returns on investment. What’s left is general income and it is subject to a higher rate of tax – the corporate tax.

Under the Obama proposal, a US corporation will have to compute its foreign tax credit on an aggregated basis – taking all foreign earnings and profits of all its foreign subsidiaries and subtracting total foreign taxes paid. If that isn’t bad enough, subsidiaries in higher tax countries will face a ceiling on how much credit they can claim against their earnings for the purpose of the Federal tax liability.

There is absolutely no reason for this, and in fact it is arguably a discriminatory policy, but hey – when it comes to ‘tax and spend’ madness, no one can beat the Democrats – the Feds are estimating the net revenue from the measure to reach between USD24.5bn (US Treasury estimate) and USD45.5bn (JC Committee on Taxation).

And all of these taxes will apply before the companies actually repatriate earnings back to the US.

Now, all of this has some connection to Ireland Inc. We’ve heard before some experts (usually from the companies that can’t really tell us what they think in fear of upsetting Government officials) saying that Obama Plan is not a biggy threat to Ireland. That, you see, our MNCs are here because our workforce is packed with Nobel Prize winners (we are that good at education!) and our energy/water/communications/transport/etc infrastructure is so world class. They are, the MNCs that is, here not because of tax arbitrage… But seriously – we do depend critically on US MNCs operations in the country.

Here is an interesting comment on the Obama speech from an Indian specialist site dealing with outsourcing:

“A tax expert from one of the top four auditing firms, who did not wish to be identified, said: "I think Obama is talking about the same thing when he took over as President. The way this works is; captive units of US firms in any other geography (it could be India, Philippines, China, etc.) are considered different entities under US tax rules. US firms pay tax on the income from these subsidiaries only when they repatriate these earnings (profits) to the US. Firms need to pay 34 to 35 per cent of federal tax on these earnings. In most cases, US firms do not send the money back to the US as they continued to invest this money in expansion and other operations. Now the US government is saying it will match deduction and income together, so they will not get the tax benefits," he said.

The thing is – India and China and many other locations will probably be ok, because they provide high productivity relative to low cost base. Ireland doesn’t do either. So what will keep the MNCs here if Obama gets his wish? For the next 5 years – the capital already sunk here. But after that? Not much. No, really, not much…

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