Sunday 17 November 2019

Thomas Molloy: It's fun but not healthy reading the tax returns of Mitt Romney

IT is fun reading through Mitt Romney's tax returns (which are available on the Washington Post's website) for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps the most obvious reason is sheer badness.

Reading somebody's tax return feels naughty in the same way that reading somebody's indiscrete diary does -- even if the diary has been published.

The US presidential hopeful does not seem very happy about having to reveal so much detail about the effective tax rate on his private investments but the reality is that he has a lot to be happy about beyond his wealth and ability to pick skilful accountants.

Romney's investments are a well-judged mix of blue-chip companies and investment funds.

He has one Irish fund which invests in bonds and appears to be reasonably well diversified but also holds stocks in everything from H&M to Louis Vuitton and Tesco.

His biggest investment funds are mainly Goldman Sachs.

Balance

It is a well-balanced portfolio that avoids making the classic Irish mistakes of over investing in financial services and property.

Back home, Health Minister James Reilly and Justice Minister Alan Shatter are the only two ministers to have made much use of the wealth they inherited.

Depressingly, they have devoted most of their resources to property which creates all sorts of conflicts of interest.

It is difficult to understand how a health minister can decide on the best way of reforming a system when he has so much invested in the status quo.

And it is difficult to understand how a justice minister can decide on the best way to save the property market when he has a significant chunk of his money invested in the Irish property market.

We must try and believe that both men can separate their own interests from the national interest but it would probably be better for them and for us if they held most of their investments in blind trusts.

Investments

This is not to say that Romney's investments are ideal; he owns a lot of pharmaceutical stocks, which probably helps to explain his fierce opposition to Barack Obama's healthcare reforms.

The good news is that it might just be enough to persuade him to allow US companies to continue ripping off their own citizens by routing lubricous amounts of profits through their Irish subsidiaries.

As usual the vast majority of Irish voters will probably be cheering the Democrats in November's elections but our interests would probably be best served by a Romney victory, assuming he does not follow George W Bush's lead and tip the world into a war he is unable to win. We wait in anticipation of the American result.



Demise

Most of us have bewailed the demise of the Dublin stock exchange and the banks' reluctance to lend to businesses, but it is much more productive to accept that the exchange and the banks are both broken and just move on.

Last week, we saw the ESB turning towards Malaysia for cash.

This week, it is the turn of a relatively small Tallaght-based electronic company to get a listing on the world's biggest stock exchange.

Both examples show that there is cash out there for those who know how and where to ask for it.

Time for new banks to lend

THE IMF issues an important assessment of the world economy today, but it provided food for thought earlier in the week when it complained that new financial regulations have yet to make markets safer and warned that financial systems are still too complex.

In words that perfectly describe the Irish situation, the Fund warned that: "The officially inspired mergers, the nationalisation of banks, and the extension of government-underwritten guarantees that have been part of crisis management strategies all further instill the notion that some banks are too important to fail."

With lenders such as Danske Bank effectively pulling out of Ireland and so many small banks merging, it is time for the Government to dust down the programme for government and create some kind of industrial bank that would compete with the existing banks.

Too much time and energy has been wasted on enticing pillar banks to lend.

What we need now are new banks with no baggage and officials who know how to lend.

Indo Business

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