Sunday, October 13, 2013

13/10/2013: On Taxes, Debt & Equity

EU Commission published some interesting research into Tax Reforms across the EU. The paper is available here:

One interesting topic covered relates to the substitution away from equity in favour of debt funding in corporate capital investment. A chart to start with:

Now, per above, the disincentives to equity investment and incentives in favour of debt seem to be the lowest (in euro area) in Cyprus and Ireland. Note that these countries are associated with aggressive brass-plating (Luxembourg) are distinct from countries with aggressive tax arbitrage activities (Cyprus and Ireland). And thus, behold the skew in the EU Commission analysis: MNCs investing into these countries do not use debt on-shoring (US MNCs do not borrow in these countries), but use registry of equity there (for example, in Irish case - due to FDI-booked investments, or equity investment by IFSC companies, ditto for old Cypriot banking system vis Russian corporates).

The EU admits almost as much:
"There is also evidence that the tax advantage of debt fuels international profit-shifting activities as
rules on interest deductibility differ between countries and there are mismatches in decisions on which instruments are considered debt financing. Several studies analyse the debt financing of multinationals with either parent companies or subsidiaries in the United States, Germany, Canada and the EU. The results of these studies suggest that firms use intra-group loans to adapt their financial structure and minimise their overall tax burden. By shifting debt to an affiliate located in a high-tax country, corporate groups are able to deduct interest payments against a higher statutory tax rate while the interest received by the lending affiliate is taxed at a lower rate. Taking data from 32 European countries between 1994 and 2003, Huizinga et al. (2008) find that a 10 % increase in the tax rate increases leverage by 1.8 %. The authors also show evidence of debt-shifting as, for multinationals with two equal-size establishments in two countries, a 10 % increase in the tax rate in one country leads to an increase in leverage of the company located in that country by 2.4 % and a decrease in leverage in the affiliated foreign company by 0.6 %."

However, overall the tax rates also play the role in this debt-shifting: "Two recent meta-studies by Feld et al. (2013) and de Mooij (2011a) review the existing empirical studies and find that ... a one percentage point higher CIT rate is associated with a 0.27 percentage point higher debt-asset ratio."

Two more major points raised in the paper:

  1. Welfare costs: "The tax bias towards debt financing also creates welfare costs. Weichenrieder and Klautke (2008) estimate this cost at between 0.08 % and 0.23 % of GDP, while Gordon (2010) estimates it at about 0.25 % of GDP. As pointed by de Mooij (2011b), these estimates ...fails to take into account the heterogeneity of responses and hence the additional welfare costs due to misallocations. Existing studies also fail to include the larger welfare costs of the negative externalities of using debt, such as systemic risk, the probability of default and the social costs of business cycle fluctuations. Finally, they do not take into account the distortions created by debtshifting activities and misallocation due to international tax arbitrage and administrative and compliance costs (de Mooij, 2011b). Consequently, the welfare impact of the debt bias can be assumed to be higher than what has been found in the literature so far."
  2. Banking Systems and Debt Shifting: "Keen and de Mooij (2012) that taxes influence the capital structure of banks and that, despite capital requirement constraints, the size of the effects of corporate taxation on the financial structure of banks is close to those for non-financial firms." In other words: capital rules do not induce any significant changes in banks behaviour when it comes to funding of banking activities: debt incentives still drive leverage up. Furthermore, "Hemmelgarn and Teichmann (2013) have found that bank leverage, dividend payouts and earnings management (in terms of loan loss reserves) react to changes in the domestic statutory CIT (corporate income tax) rate. ...In the three years after a tax increase by 10 percentage points, the results predict an increase in leverage of 0.98 percentage points or a relative increase by about 1.1 % (in relation to the equity ratio it would mean a notable relative decrease, of 8.9 % of equity)." Core conclusion: "These results suggest that a reduction in the preferential treatment of debt would result in a significant decrease in bank leverage. In addition, the results also show that regulatory capital requirements in the banking sector alone do not seem to be a prime determinant of financial structure. ... the effect of taxation conflicts with the aim of current regulatory reform to increase capital in the context of Basel III."

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