Business Irish

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Richard Curran: Exchequer may yet be able to cash in on Leprechaun Economics

There may yet be a pot of gold for the State if it finally gets a cut from the Leprechaun Economics that brought billions in IP assets here
There may yet be a pot of gold for the State if it finally gets a cut from the Leprechaun Economics that brought billions in IP assets here
Richard Curran

Richard Curran

While so much focus has been on Paschal Donohoe's Stamp Duty increase in the Budget, it wasn't the only place he was able to put his hands, quite easily, on a very large sum of money to balance the books.

The Stamp Duty increase on commercial property is expected to raise around €375m next year. But there was another €150m tapped from multinationals on intangible assets or intellectual property (IP).

This is kind of linked to the so-called 'Leprechaun Economics' phenomenon of 2015. Back then the Government decided to allow companies to offset all of the money they spend either developing or acquiring IP against the trading profits they make from it.

As soon as multinationals could write off the full amount, an extraordinary €300bn worth of capital assets was transferred to Ireland from around the world, and it was mainly IP.

We couldn't really tax any of it because it was all written off against cost. But it counted in GDP so it artificially ballooned our economic growth figure.

However, it wasn't just a technical exercise in balance sheet and accounting management. Ownership of €300bn of IP shifted to Ireland.

Multinationals make very real profits from charging for the use of their IP. In 2015, the trading profit made by multinationals in Ireland on their IP shot up by €26bn. This was completely offset by capital allowances they received - basically reducing their taxable profit on that to close to zero.

To put it in perspective if we had allowed just 80pc of that to be set against capital allowances, we could have taxed 20pc of it at 12.5pc. It could have yielded around €650m in tax.

This was one very smart leprechaun because it meant that companies had further embedded their connections with Ireland and we opened the door to billions in new IP. We cannot tax them on that IP for several years, until they have offset all of it in capital allowances over anything from five to 10 years.

But once that period is up, as long as the IP stays in Ireland, we will be able to start taxing the profits these companies make from it.

In the Budget, Minister Donohoe has moved to reduce the amount companies can avail of in capital allowances on intangible assets to 80pc instead of 100pc. This is in line with the recommendations of Seamus Coffey's report on corporation tax. The €300bn that came into the country in 2015 is off limits for now, but any new transfers will be taxable up to a point.

This easy technical measure will bring in €150m next year. The Government consulted widely with multinationals on the issue and they aren't running for the hills. It raises the question of how much would we have got in 2015. We wouldn't have landed €300bn in new IP if we had the 80pc rule in place but who is to say we wouldn't have landed half of it or two-thirds of it.

And, in fact, changing the rules now clearly isn't going to spook the horses. In fact, tax experts say, some of these companies don't mind being seen to pay something on their IP trading profits.

But we can only think of what could have been for the exchequer.

Budget tweaks to property won't lead to more houses being built

A "damp squib", "much ado about nothing" and lots of other phrases have been used to describe last Tuesday's Budget. Certainly, the income tax and USC measures were like a lot of complex ingredients that went into baking a very small cake.

Never has so much been spent, doing so little, for so many, might be the response to the income tax measures. But the stamp duty increases, combined with the capital gains tax (CGT) changes on commercial property should dampen down prices in that sector.

Somebody who paid €100m for a building last year, incurred a stamp duty bill of €2m bringing the total cost to €102m. Next year they may pay €96.2m, plus the €5.77m (6pc) in stamp duty to end up with the same net price. It means the vendor is getting €3.8m less for the building and the state is getting that much more.

Questions have been asked about whether stamp duty will deliver the extra €375m planned in the budget. Donohoe might have reckoned that his CGT changes would encourage more asset sales.

Instead of waiting seven years to sell a commercial property asset CGT free, they are free to go ahead from next year. No doubt many investors are sitting on big windfall gains and might want to take them next year without paying CGT. But equally, they could sit back and wait another 12 months or 24 months, depending on how they financed the deal, and believe they will get a better price and no CGT then either. It is hard to see what all of this will do for house building. So much of the commercial property bought between 2012 and 2014 to avail of the CGT relief, was in the form of retail, hotels, offices and even buy-to-let houses and apartments.

In theory, it might prevent some residential development site hoarding. It will definitely prevent a major flood of commercial properties coming on the market all at once in 2019 and 2020, as sellers would then have been able to flog them with the CGT relief.

It may even boost the CGT tax take over the next few years as anybody who buys commercial property from one of these sellers next year or in 2019, and flips it quickly, will have to pay CGT that wouldn't have been payable before.

Those who bought in the dark days of 2012 and 2013 are going to make a killing.

Unfairness of flawed tracker redress scheme is laid bare

The personal tragedy behind the tracker mortgage debacle were laid bare during the week as some people came forward with their stories to an Oireachtas committee.

The deadline for being identified as one of the bank's victims in the tracker mortgage saga has passed. But what if you were a victim of being wrongly denied a tracker and you have not been identified by your bank?

It appears there is very little you can do. The way the banks have dragged their heels puts many people beyond the statute of limitations for taking a legal action.

The Central Bank is supposed to be overseeing this process but it will not take individual cases on board. It appears that the Central Bank will do a spot-check audit of the cases identified by the banks to ensure they have been treated properly.

But it doesn't appear that the Central Bank will do detailed checks to find cases the banks have either overlooked or ignored. The banks themselves are not best placed to identify everyone they have wronged. Detailed individual oversight is missing.

It is a bit like asking the chief suspect to identify his victims in the identity parade instead of the other way round. The process is utterly flawed.

This sorry saga has been badly handled by the banks, the government, the Central Bank and so many arms of the state.

Unfortunately, there is very little chance of accountability or actual justice being done at this stage.

Sunday Indo Business

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