by Sinclair Noe
DOW + 52 = 15,387
SPX + 2 = 1669
NAS + 5 = 3502
10 YR YLD – .02 = 1.94%
OIL – .98 = 95.95
GOLD – 18.10 = 1377.00
SILV – .49 = 22.53
It’s Tuesday. The markets moved higher. It’s almost inevitable. The Dow Industrials have closed higher every Tuesday this year, with the exception of January 8th; 19 consecutive Tuesdays. No, I don’t know why.
Well, today, part of the reason could be traced to the Federal Reserve. A couple of Fed heads were talking up easy money. New York Fed President William Dudley said he cannot be sure whether policymakers will next reduce or increase the amount of purchases, due to the “uncertain” economic outlook. The QE taper may end up being a QE expansion. Dudley worries about investor over-reaction to a “normalization” of policy and suggests the FOMC may need to update what it needs to see to move in that direction. Earlier, James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, urged the European Central Bank to consider employing a US style quantitative easing program to counter slowing inflation and recession in the euro zone.
Tomorrow, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will speak before a congressional panel, the Joint Economic Committee. The minutes of the Fed’s latest policy-setting meeting will be released on Wednesday afternoon. When the Fed showers liquidity, the money flows to the markets, but I can’t give a good reason for the Tuesday winning streak.
There is a certain symmetry in life: fire and ice, winter and summer, darkness and light, yin and yang. And this brings us to the IRS scandal; last week we learned about the demand treatment afforded some groups by the IRS, this week we learn about the generous nature of the taxman. It’s not so much that the taxman is benevolent; we all no better; but some entities demand preferential treatment; powerful, giant corporations are holding governments and citizens up for ransom; taking tax breaks and subsidies from countries in the name of competitiveness; sheltering profits in off-shore tax havens.
Google, Amazon, Starbucks, GE, Apple, and pretty much every other major corporation and the big Wall Street banks siphon off profits via off-shore entities that are sometimes no more than a mailbox on a tropical island, and they don’t pay taxes like the rest of us, because if they did it would destroy their ability to be competitive.
And today, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, ran down the aisles of Congress and hurled his hammer at the totalitarian overlords, metaphorically speaking. Actually, Cook appeared before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Congressional investigators found that some of Apple’s subsidiaries had no employees and were largely run by top officials from the company’s headquarters in California. By officially locating them in places like Ireland, Apple was able to, in effect, make them stateless — exempt from taxes, record-keeping laws and the need for the subsidiaries to even file tax returns anywhere in the world.
Apple Operations International, which has no employees but reported $30 billion in income over the four years, has not filed an income tax return in any country for the last five years, the subcommittee investigation found.
A second company, Apple Sales International, holds the economic rights to Apple’s intellectual property in Europe, Asia and Africa. The subsidiary had $74 billion in sales income from 2009-2012 but paid less than 1% in taxes to Ireland.
The only taxes paid were on the interest earned by the cash pile and small sums in local markets. Senate investigators allege a total of $70bn has been sheltered this way in four years.
The tactic, which is legal, is possible through complex cost-sharing agreements that transfer the economic rights to the valuable intellectual property behind the iPhone, the iPad, and other products to subsidiaries outside the US.
Tim Cook told the senators: “We pay all the taxes we owe, every single dollar.” And that appears to be the case; Apple does pay a considerable amount of taxes in the US . Cook added: “We don’t depend on tax gimmicks.” And that appears to be a slightly more dubious claim. Cook said he “personally doesn’t understand the difference between a tax presence and a tax residence”.
In a dramatic display of how threats from multinational corporations are driving down taxes across the world, Cook warned Congress that he would refuse to repatriate a total of $100 billion stashed offshore unless it acted to slash the 35% US rate. Cook said the tax rate for repatriated money should be set “in single digits” to persuade companies to bring it back. Standard tax for US profits should be, he said, in the “mid 20s”.
Everyone “knows” that the corporate income tax is a mess. Ask any company. They pay too much in corporate income tax, face rates higher than in any other OECD country, and are just following the law when they use tax havens to keep profits eternally deferred from taxation and to perform general sleight-of-hand. There is a big difference between the headline rate of 35%, which is indeed tops in the OECD, and the effective rate of 12.1%, one of the lowest in the OECD.
Apple is not an outlier in its efforts to produce ‘stateless income’; income that is taxed neither in the US nor in the countries where its foreign customers are located, but it is audacious in its tax avoidance strategies. Apple shifted tens of billions of dollars of income without even breaking a sweat. Google followed the Apple playbook by using a low-tax Irish subsidiary to avoid taxes; Google is now under investigation in the UK. Starbucks’ tax dodge was so blatant British consumers began boycotting the firm until it reversed course. In the US, we aren’t indignant. Today, senators talked about how they considered Apple to be a great company, even if they did have concerns about the tax thing.
We have lots of great American companies that operate in a more or less free-market system that has allowed them to thrive on publicly-funded research, infrastructure, defense, and in the case of Apple – patent and intellectual property protections. And they show their gratitude by choosing to cut their taxes in half – or actually closer to one-third despite doubling their profits, so they may hold more than $1 trillion dollars of cash off-shore, and eliminate workers rather than create jobs. Or, as one Apple executive explained: “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.”
Which raises an interesting question; why should America have an obligation to solve Apple’s problems? Apple enjoys the protections of US laws against patent and intellectual property infringement. Apple enjoys the ability to ship its products around the world, in part because the US has the largest, most powerful military making sure the avenues of commerce aren’t crowded out by pirates on the high seas or in the skies. If Apple doesn’t want to pay for those protections, they shouldn’t be forced to. They could just stop using those services. You don’t pay; you don’t get – no gimmicks in that equation.
The scandals in Washington remind us to be ever vigilant about the dangers of government overreaching its authority, whether by the long arm of the IRS or the Justice Department, but that doesn’t mean that we accept anarchy. We need to remember that government does provide important services and protections, and somehow we have to pay for that. Tim Cook and Apple don’t want to pay. Nobody wants to pay. I understand. And so, not much changes
By the way, the World Bank estimates the total cost for a successful attack on malnutrition would be approximately $10.3 to $11.8 billion annually. Apple alone underpaid its 2012 taxes by $11 billion, based on a 35% rate. So, we could literally put an end to hunger in this world, if Apple paid it’s taxes, but you know, it’s not Apple’s obligation to solve the problems of the world.