Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Careful what you ask for...

Much of the financial media buzz this week is about all that cash Apple legally shelters outside the U.S. If you happen to share John McCain's and Carl Levin's outrage, I'd like you to reconsider in light of the following points:

1. Cash "stashed" overseas was not earned in the U.S. then sent overseas. It was earned and, if at all (under agreements with taxing authorities), taxed overseas.

2. Apple is a global company, serving the global marketplace. When it manufactures a product in a foreign market, sells to consumers in that market, pockets its earnings and pays taxes in that market, what reasoning would justify a U.S. levy on those earnings?

3. If Apple pays a 2% tax in Ireland and decides to use some of its Irish earnings to establish a presence in Canada, the Canadian government will be so thrilled/smart that it wouldn't dream of hitting Apple with a 13% tax (Canada's 15% corporate tax rate minus the 2% paid in Ireland) on the way in.

4. If, on the other hand, Apple decides to invest some of its Irish earnings in the U.S., the U.S. government will be so insane as to hit Apple with a 33% tax (America's 35% corporate tax rate minus 2%) on the way in.

5. Now if Samsung (a South Korean company) pays a 2% tax in Ireland and decides to use some of its Irish earnings to establish a presence in the U.S. market, the U.S. government (like smart Canada) would be so thrilled/smart that it wouldn't dream of hitting Samsung with a 33% tax on the way in.

6. If Apple pays more taxes, are you likely to pay more or less for your next iPad? Would its employees see higher or lower advances in pay and benefits going forward? Will it hire more or fewer people going forward? Will it pay higher or lower dividends to stockholders going forward? Will its stock price grow faster or slower, if at all, going forward?

7. If Apple pays more taxes, is the federal government likely to, therefore, reduce your taxes---or otherwise enrich your life---going forward? Are politicians likely to become more or less responsible with all that additional revenue flowing in?

8. Under whose command do you think Apple's revenue would ultimately bring the greatest value to the consumer: Apple, competing with the likes of Samsung for the consumer's business? Or politicians, competing with each other for the consumer's vote?

9. Ultimately, who pays corporate taxes? Isn't it, per #6 above, customers, employees and shareholders? Clearly, if companies pay higher tax rates, and the government's win-fall doesn't flow to your tax return---which it won't---you, Pyrrhus, will be picking up the tab...

What we're talking about here is worldwide (e.g., U.S.) versus territorial (e.g., Canada) tax policy. Worldwide means, for example, a U.S. company pays U.S. tax on income wherever in the world it's earned (although the U.S. system allows for "deferral" --- meaning foreign income isn't taxed until it's brought to the U.S.). Territorial means, for example, a Canadian company pays no Canadian tax on income it earns in foreign countries (even when it's brought to Canada). Defenders of the worldwide system claim that a territorial system in the U.S. would actually---to an even greater extent---inspire U.S. multi-national companies to book their profits overseas. But, as under the present system, when we allow companies to defer tax until those earnings cross over into the U.S., aren't we inspiring them to keep profits---in perpetuity---overseas? I think the worldwide system's proponents need to realize that 96% of the world's customers live outside the U.S. I.e., opportunity so abounds outside our borders that there's little need to ever bring those earnings home. Of course that's why they'd have us do away with deferral altogether.

And why should we pray they fail at doing away with deferral altogether? Read again points 6-9.

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