TAX, SOCIETY & CULTURE

Follow me on Twitter:

Friends with Tax Benefits: Apple's Cautionary Tale

Published Oct 15, 2015 - Follow author Allison: - Permalink

Over the summer, I wrote a column on the ongoing EU state aid investigation into Ireland's tax practices involving Apple. The recent news that Ireland plans to cut its corporate tax rate again, dropping to just 6.5% for IP-driven companies, reminded me that I neglected to post this article, so here it is. Abstract:

Apple recently disclosed to shareholders a potentially material impairment to its earnings: an ongoing investigation by the European Commission into Ireland’s tax ruling practices. Ireland may be forced to retroactively impose additional taxes on Apple, going back as much as a decade (and possibly beyond), if the Commission decides that the Irish Tax Authority granted Apple a prohibited subsidy, referred to as “fiscal state aid,” in contravention of EU law. But the impact of this investigation may be felt well beyond Europe. Against the backdrop of the OECD’s project on base erosion and profit shifting, the Commission’s investigation about whether Ireland gave Apple unfair benefits is fundamentally an interrogation into what, if anything, governments can or should do to stop the strategic use of national tax systems to lure international trade and investment. The Commission’s inquiry into Apple is thus a cautionary tale for both tax planners and tax authorities, whose confidence in past practices must give way as traditional compromises and well-worn assumptions suddenly become subjects of intense renegotiation on the global stage.
Tax competition and cooperation continue to duke it out: BEPS is one battleground, state aid is another. If in policing internal practices, the EC finds that tax favours like Ireland's are anti-competitive as to other EU countries, then surely they are also anti-competitive as to the rest of the world. Even though the relevant treaty (TFEU) is unique and distinct, the principle that tax favours constitute state aid might open the door for disputes beyond the EU, for example in the context of other bilateral or multilateral trade agreements.

Side note: in writing this column, I compared the successive Apple disclosure statements to watch the language change in response to the EC inquiry, which unfolded as follows:

1st EC letter to Ireland: June 2013
Additional info request: October 2013
Additional info request: January 2014
EC letter informing Ireland of investigation: March 2014.

In the column I suggest we can trace this correspondence in Apple's tax disclosure. Because it was a brief discussion I didn't lay out the disclosure changes in full but here they are (through the time of the column; not updated since), interesting in terms of revealing management's decisions about what shareholders need to know in order to make informed investment choices. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Apple's share price appears immune to the news to date. It is hard to imagine the size a clawback would need to be in order to have a material impact.

10K Oct 2012, 10Q Jan 2013, 10Q Apr 2013 [identical provisions]
The Company could be subject to changes in its tax rates, the adoption of new U.S. or international tax legislation or exposure to additional tax liabilities. The Company is subject to taxes in the U.S. and numerous foreign jurisdictions. Current economic and political conditions make tax rates in any jurisdiction, including the U.S., subject to significant change. The Company’s future effective tax rates could be affected by changes in the mix of earnings in countries with differing statutory tax rates, changes in the valuation of deferred tax assets and liabilities, or changes in tax laws or their interpretation. The Company is also subject to the examination of its tax returns by the Internal Revenue Service and other tax authorities. The Company regularly assesses the likelihood of an adverse outcome resulting from these examinations to determine the adequacy of its provision for taxes. There can be no assurance as to the outcome of these examinations.

10Q Jul 2013
The Company could be subject to changes in its tax rates, the adoption of new U.S. or international tax legislation or exposure to additional tax liabilities. The Company is subject to taxes in the U.S. and numerous foreign jurisdictions, including Ireland, where a number of the Company’s subsidiaries are organized. Due to economic and political conditions, tax rates in various jurisdictions may be subject to significant change. Current economic and political conditions make tax rates in any jurisdiction, including the U.S., subject to significant change.  The Company’s future effective tax rates could be affected by changes in the mix of earnings in countries with differing statutory tax rates, changes in the valuation of deferred tax assets and liabilities, or changes in tax laws or their interpretation, including in the U.S. and Ireland. The Company is also subject to the examination of its tax returns and other tax matters by the Internal Revenue Service and other tax authorities and governmental bodies. The Company regularly assesses the likelihood of an adverse outcome resulting from these examinations to determine the adequacy of its provision for taxes. There can be no assurance as to the outcome of these examinations. If the Company’s effective tax rates were to increase, particularly in the U.S. or Ireland, or if the ultimate determination of the Company’s taxes owed is for an amount in excess of amounts previously accrued, the Company’s operating results, cash flows, and financial condition could be adversely affected.

10K Oct 2013, 10Q Jan 2014, 10Q Apr 2014: same as prior

10Q Jul 28 2014
The Company could be subject to changes in its tax rates, the adoption of new U.S. or international tax legislation or exposure to additional tax liabilities. The Company is subject to taxes in the U.S. and numerous foreign jurisdictions, including Ireland, where a number of the Company’s subsidiaries are organized. Due to economic and political conditions, tax rates in various jurisdictions may be subject to significant change. The Company’s future effective tax rates could be affected by changes in the mix of earnings in countries with differing statutory tax rates, changes in the valuation of deferred tax assets and liabilities, or changes in tax laws or their interpretation, including in the U.S. and Ireland. For example, in June 2014, the European Commission opened a formal investigation to examine whether decisions by the tax authorities in Ireland with regard to the corporate income tax to be paid by two of the Company’s Irish subsidiaries comply with European Union rules on state aid. If the European Commission were to take a final decision against Ireland, it could require changes to existing tax rulings that, in turn, could increase the Company’s taxes in the future. The European Commission could also require Ireland to recover from the Company past taxes reflective of the disallowed state aid.

The Company is also subject to the examination of its tax returns and other tax matters by the Internal Revenue Service and other tax authorities and governmental bodies. The Company regularly assesses the likelihood of an adverse outcome resulting from these examinations to determine the adequacy of its provision for taxes. There can be no assurance as to the outcome of these examinations. If the Company’s effective tax rates were to increase, particularly in the U.S. or Ireland, or if the ultimate determination of the Company’s taxes owed is for an amount in excess of amounts previously accrued, the Company’s operating results, cash flows, and financial condition could be adversely affected.

10K Oct 2014: same as prior

10Q Jan 2015
The Company could be subject to changes in its tax rates, the adoption of new U.S. or international tax legislation or exposure to additional tax liabilities. The Company is subject to taxes in the U.S. and numerous foreign jurisdictions, including Ireland, where a number of the Company’s subsidiaries are organized. Due to economic and political conditions, tax rates in various jurisdictions may be subject to significant change. The Company’s future effective tax rates could be affected by changes in the mix of earnings in countries with differing statutory tax rates, changes in the valuation of deferred tax assets and liabilities, or changes in tax laws or their interpretation, including in the U.S. and Ireland. For example, in June 2014, the European Commission opened a formal investigation to examine whether decisions by the tax authorities in Ireland with regard to the corporate income tax to be paid by two of the Company’s Irish subsidiaries comply with European Union rules on state aid. If the European Commission were to take a final decision against Ireland, it could require changes to existing tax rulings that, in turn, could increase the Company’s taxes in the future. The European Commission could also Ireland to recover from the Company past taxes reflective of the disallowed state aid. The Company is also subject to the examination of its tax returns and other tax matters by the Internal Revenue Service and other tax authorities and governmental bodies. The Company regularly assesses the likelihood of an adverse outcome resulting from these examinations to determine the adequacy of its provision for taxes. There can be no assurance as to the outcome of these examinations. If the Company’s effective tax rates were to increase, particularly in the U.S. or Ireland, or if the ultimate determination of the Company’s taxes owed is for an amount in excess of amounts previously accrued, the Company’s operating results, cash flows and financial condition could be adversely affected.

10-Q Apr 28 2015
The Company could be subject to changes in its tax rates, the adoption of new U.S. or international tax legislation or exposure to additional tax liabilities. The Company is subject to taxes in the U.S. and numerous foreign jurisdictions, including Ireland, where a number of the Company’s subsidiaries are organized. Due to economic and political conditions, tax rates in various jurisdictions may be subject to significant change. The Company’s future effective tax rates could be affected by changes in the mix of earnings in countries with differing statutory tax rates, changes in the valuation of deferred tax assets and liabilities, or changes in tax laws or their interpretation, including in the U.S. and Ireland. For example, in June 2014, the European Commission opened a formal investigation to examine whether decisions by the tax authorities in Ireland with regard to the corporate income tax to be paid by two of the Company’s Irish subsidiaries comply with European Union rules on state aid.

As of March 28, 2015, the Company recorded gross unrecognized tax benefits of $4.6 billion, of which $1.6 billion, if recognized, would affect the Company’s effective tax rate. As of September 27, 2014, the total amount of gross unrecognized tax benefits was $4.0 billion, of which $1.4 billion, if recognized, would have affected the Company’s effective tax rate. The Company’s total gross unrecognized tax benefits are classified as other non-current liabilities in the Condensed Consolidated Balance Sheets. The Company had $844 million and $630 million of gross interest and penalties accrued as of March 28, 2015 and September 27, 2014, respectively, which are classified as other non-current liabilities in the Condensed Consolidated Balance Sheets. Management believes that an adequate provision has been made for any adjustments that may result from tax examinations. However, the outcome of tax audits cannot be predicted with certainty. If any issues addressed in the Company’s tax audits are resolved in a manner not consistent with management’s expectations, the Company could be required to adjust its provision for income taxes in the period such resolution occurs. Although timing of the resolution and/or closure of audits is not certain, the Company does not believe it is reasonably possible that its unrecognized tax benefits would materially change in the next 12 months. On June 11, 2014, the European Commission issued an opening decision initiating a formal investigation against Ireland for alleged state aid to the Company. The opening decision concerns the allocation of profits for taxation purposes of the Irish branches of two subsidiaries of the Company. The Company believes the European Commission’s assertions are without merit. If the European Commission were to conclude against Ireland, the European Commission could require Ireland to recover from the Company past taxes covering a period of up to 10 years reflective of the disallowed state aid. While such amount could be material, as of March 28, 2015 the Company is unable to estimate the impact.


The Company is also subject to the examination of its tax returns and other tax matters by the Internal Revenue Service and other tax authorities and governmental bodies. The Company regularly assesses the likelihood of an adverse outcome resulting from these examinations to determine the adequacy of its provision for taxes. There can be no assurance as to the outcome of these examinations. If the Company’s effective tax rates were to increase, particularly in the U.S. or Ireland, or if the ultimate determination of the Company’s taxes owed is for an amount in excess of amounts previously accrued, the Company’s operating results, cash flows and financial condition could be adversely affected.

Tagged as: corporate tax disclosure EU fiscal state aid tax competition tax policy TFEU

COMMENTS

Share: