back to article Cooky crumbles: Apple mulls yanking profits out of Europe and into US

Apple CEO Tim Cook may pull billions of dollars in profit out of Europe and bring them home to the US, less than a month after he vowed he wouldn't. In the aftermath of the massive €13 billion ($14.5 billion) back tax claim that the European Commission landed on the electronics giant and the Irish tax authorities, Cook has …

  1. Youngone Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Taxes

    "Poor old Apple, no what which way it turns, some government is starting to take away its hard-earned cash."

    Yes, and the terrible government will no doubt throw it away on schools and hospitals and roads.

    1. JetSetJim Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Taxes

      Ours would no doubt throw it away on badly specified IT contracts, though, given half the chance

      1. oldcoder

        Re: Taxes

        Most likely spending it on Microsoft products... or just to get more non-working patches from Microsoft.

  2. Tommy Pock

    You think the current backlash against Apple's tax avoidance is bad?

    Wait until the public finds out that the iPhone 7 won't have a headphone socket.

    1. paulf Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Apple seems to think the state of the art is products that lack certain compelling standardised functions unless they have a plethora of reassuringly expensive adaptors dangling off them (e.g. Lightning to Ethernet, Lightning to 3.5mm jack, Optical drive).

      To clarify: 1. GbE is preferable to Wifi because it doesn't suffer the same contention as Wifi does from other adjacent users and networks. 2. The 3.5mm jack port may be an old standard but unlike floppy disks it isn't obsolete. Some may consider swapping passive headphones for Bluetooth equivalents that need regular charging to be a retrograde step. 3. Just because you paid again to stream everything from iTunes over your ubiquitous 5 bar 4G LTE connection doesn't mean we all can or want to.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He can huff, he can puff, but he will pay

    The ploy to try to get USA to fight Eu for a fair share is extremely cute.

    Ain't going to work though. USA may throw as many toys out of the pram as it likes - it will not stop the knitting lady. She already nailed Fiat, BP, Starbucks and 40+ other multinationals using the same method. Every single one of them paid up (albeit the bills were smaller - up to a few 100M). So will Apple. And Google. And Amazon. And Facebook. And everyone else. The cosy days of the Barrosso Eu commission when competition inquiries were launched only upon complaint and terminated when the complaints were withdrawn are done. The direction has changed and in a way which is good for all of us (in the long term - even Apple shareholders).

    I have no sympathy for Tim. Money is like manure, you need to spread it around to make new things grow. The state collecting it and using it on fundamental science R&D, education, infrastructure, etc is the order of things. Without it, we get a perverted "innovation" scenario where the sole innovations are yet another round of social sharing economy w*nking. The mere fact that we went to the moon when we paid taxes and we cannot even contemplate it today when we allow companies to Leprechaun them, should say everything there is to be said on the matter.

    The story does not end with lack of money for education, science, etc. It starts there. When money is taken out of circulation and Leprechauned, inflation drops leading to overall economy stagnation, states using defibrillation techniques like quantitative easing which do more harm than good, destruction of savings which pretty much equates to destruction of middle class and social stability - you name it. The list of effects from Lepperchauning money comparable to countries GDPs out of circulation goes on for quite a while and none of the macroeconomic effects are pretty (to say the least).

    So frankly, Tim, pay up - same as we do. I may cringe when I see the 40% rate Her Majesty Revenue and Customs asks me to pay, but I pay. There are two inevitable things in life - you die and you pay taxes.

    1. Gert Leboski
      Thumb Up

      Re: He can huff, he can puff, but he will pay

      I wish I could have upvoted you more for your post. Spot on!

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: He can huff, he can puff, but he will pay

        "I wish I could have upvoted you more for your post. Spot on!"

        Me too!

        Particularly for this bit:-

        "...we went to the moon when we paid taxes and we cannot even contemplate it today..."

    2. Red Bren

      Re: He can huff, he can puff, but he will pay

      "I may cringe when I see the 40% rate Her Majesty Revenue and Customs asks me to pay, but I pay"

      If Apple and similar corporations were to pay tax in proportion to their earnings, that 40% rate could be reduced.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: He can huff, he can puff, but he will pay

        A more likely outcome is that both you and Apple will end up paying 50 %. And there will be an app for it......

    3. Oengus Silver badge

      Re: He can huff, he can puff, but he will pay

      There are two inevitable things in life - you die and you pay taxes.

      and medical science is working to eliminate death.

      1. Mark 65 Silver badge

        Re: He can huff, he can puff, but he will pay

        and medical science is working to eliminate death.

        That's just so you can keep on paying taxes

        1. kmac499

          Re: He can huff, he can puff, but he will pay

          ""and medical science is working to eliminate death.""

          "That's just so you can keep on paying taxes"

          Meanwhile Accounting 'Science' is applying to the Supreme Court to repeal the laws of physics and mathematics...

          i.e.

          The wave function of a Head Office does not collapse even when someone looks for it.

          1+1 = whatever we say it is..

    4. PaulR79

      Re: He can huff, he can puff, but he will pay

      Downvoted for stealing this, word for word, from an online article as your 'comment'. No menion of the article either so you are clearly trying to play this off as your own words.

      1. Tommy Pock

        Re: He can huff, he can puff, but he will pay

        Really? In that case, he should refund his earnings from that comment.

        1. PaulR79

          Re: He can huff, he can puff, but he will pay

          "Really? In that case, he should refund his earnings from that comment."

          Oh ok. I misunderstood. I thought this was a place for comments, not copying and pasting articles. I've been doing it wrong all this time.

    5. Schlimnitz

      Re: He can huff, he can puff, but he will pay

      "When money is taken out of circulation"

      You really think they've hidden it under a mattress somewhere?

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: He can huff, he can puff, but he will pay

      I may cringe when I see the 40% rate Her Majesty Revenue and Customs asks me to pay, but I pay. There are two inevitable things in life - you die and you pay taxes.

      That would be OK if that tax indeed went to the benefit of all, instead of wasted on "friends" like consultancies blowing it on projects that never deliver. It may seem strange, but I disagree with the idea of taxing high end earners more: if we taxed them the same it would offer less of an incentive to go creative on ways to save tax. Just my two cents ex VAT.

  4. hypernovasoftware

    When Trump is President, Apple will not pay anything near a 35 per cent repatriation tax. More like 15 per cent. Good timing Tim!

    1. TVU Silver badge

      "When Trump is President, Apple will not pay anything near a 35 per cent repatriation tax. More like 15 per cent. Good timing Tim!"

      i suspect this move is nothing more than a paper tiger threat to try to encourage the European Commission to think again...which just won't happen. The idea that in real life Apple is going suddenly turn over a new leaf and start voluntarily paying corporate tax at 35% in the USA is quite risible.

      BTW, one Gary Johnson (who's a far more credible candidate anyway) will end up splitting the centre right vote in November thus ensuring that Trump never gets near the White House to reduce that 35% corporate tax rate.

  5. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Where is Tim Cook's PR team?

    They really should not be letting this stay in the headlines in the run up to their next product launch. Agree to pay, though perhaps with some negotiations, promise to be a good corporate ciitzen and get out of the headlines. Otherwise, this will still be in people's minds when next week. And, when they're supposed to be thinking "must have shiny, shiny", they may still be thinking: so 0.0005 % of the $ 900 is all the tax Apple pays?

    Trying to fight this is lose-lose for Apple: it's back tax on sales in the EU that have already happened through an Irish-based tax shelter so repatriation isn't an offer and all the precedents are against appealing. Apple has hundreds of billions in cash so even this massive bill will hardly effect them. Hell, if they're accountants get them to offset share buybacks against tax, then I'm sure they can come up with a suitable scheme to minimise the actual pain.

    And get lobbying for tax reform in the US: not just the corporate rate, but on taxing only where sales are made. A simpler tax system will benefit Apple almost as much as wheezes like this.

    1. TVU Silver badge

      Re: Where is Tim Cook's PR team?

      "Where is Tim Cook's PR team?"

      Probably sacked and in the dole queue and standing right behind all the former Microsoft software quality assurance testers.

      1. Philip Lewis

        Re: Where is Tim Cook's PR team?

        "...all the former Microsoft software quality assurance testers."

        At the front of the queue then.

  6. goldcd

    I'm pretty sure

    I read an article on this very tome, that quite convincingly argued that corporation tax is a stupid idea - and that this type of mess is what happens in the transition (and EU was setup to assist in pushing it down to zero).

    When you buy your device you pay tax where you bought it (e.g. VAT), then the people who made this possible pay tax (income tax on the Irish/UK/wherever employees) and finally the company should pay tax through their shareholders (you get a dividend, or sell your shares, you pay your local tax on your profits in the same way you would on any other income).

    Taxing a company for having more money in the bank just seems bizarre. A company isn't a person, despite some countries best-effort in making a corporation such an entity (yes, I read that book).

    1. The Dorset Rambler

      Re: I'm pretty sure

      As I understand it, a limited company [UK] IS considered a person. It is a legal entity of itself that lives even after it's original 'creators' are long dead.....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm pretty sure

      I agree - corporation tax as a concept is the problem here. Tax personal income, or sales, or capital. Taxing company profit is just asking for tangled avoidance schemes.

      1. Schultz

        "Taxing company profit is just asking for tangled avoidance schemes"

        And taxing private income does exactly the same (although most private citizens have a little less budget to pay tax-avoidance lawyers).

        Apart from simply collecting money, another role of taxation is to keep the money flowing to productive use. That's why there are investment tax breaks. Again, that's not so different for private and company capital.

        1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: "Taxing company profit is just asking for tangled avoidance schemes"

          Taxes pay for things that companies and people need - security, clean water, fast network access and the infrastructure to support civilized life. If Tim Cook really feels that taxes are bad why doesn't he simply move to Mogadishu ... I'm sure that with only a tiny kickback he could pay even less tax there.

    3. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: I'm pretty sure

      >Taxing a company for having more money in the bank just seems bizarre.

      Corporations aren't taxed on "money in the bank" any more than people are. They are taxed on net income.

      With zero corporation tax, you can store money above your needs in a corporation, go traveling for a year (becoming non-resident) and then bring your money back into the country as "wealth" rather than income, or simply retire and never go back to the US. Think of it as adding 35-40% to your pension every year.

      The US may think its jurisdiction is "the world" but other countries do not.

      1. Nattrash

        Re: I'm pretty sure

        Sorry, but have to correct you there from an "international" perspective; I don't know about companies, but there are indeed countries where people are taxed on "money in the bank", or more broadly, just having capital like savings, or property (e.g. house). This then isn't "new" money (aka income), but just money that is sitting there year after year, and the tax office is taking a piece of every year...

    4. Schlimnitz
      Unhappy

      Re: I'm pretty sure

      Yup, that was probably Tim Worstall, who got ditched when El Reg did a PC purge a while back...

      No more neoliberals, no more climate deniers, no more brexiteers.

      And sadly, without Lester Haines, no more pub nosh :(

    5. Brian Catt

      Re: I'm pretty sure

      That isn't what is happening. Apple are allocating overheads disproportionately to revenue and using high international transfer prices that ensure their profits are not made where the revenues are. The financial engineering of indirect costs andtransfer prices and "Corporate charges" ensures profits are made in the lowest tax regime, artificially.

      VAT is a sales tax, not a tax on the business of manufacture and sale to the final retail channel, why it is not levied on essentials . It transfers taxation from income tax to actual consumption and has little effect in the manufacturer/supply chain, who only pay VAT on their net profit, not sales value. All obvious basics. . And everything Apple make is a de facto overpriced luxury item, no one needs to pay that much to do what they do.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm pretty sure

        "...why it is not levied on essentials"

        WTF?

        That must be some alternate universe. Please name the tax constituencies that have a true Value Added Tax that excludes "esentials".

  7. Magani
    Unhappy

    "Poor old Apple..."

    Obviously for very high values of 'poor'.

  8. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    Alien

    SpaceX

    I'm wondering if Apple could put a satellite in orbit, claim that houses their HQ, assign their profits out of reach of terrestrial hands.

    I'll be delighted to take just a 0.1% cut if Tim wants to use the idea.

    1. Slx

      Re: SpaceX

      They've already got a head office located in the iCloud.

      1. Schlimnitz

        Re: SpaceX

        Yup, and yesterday for Facebook it was iSmoke...

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: SpaceX

      Well, there are rumours about selling the ISS...

  9. Scoular

    People annoyed fancy that

    Tim is annoyed but not half as much as the people who have finally started to wake up that the system in place for the past 40 odd years has actually not benefited them, just the rich.

    Hence we have Brexit , Trump and similar politicians emerging around the world. Many of them barking mad or incompetent but desperate people try desperate remedies.

    The 'Establishment' needs to do a quick review and actually get on with serving the people as they claim to do but have not.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: People annoyed fancy that

      I find it hilarious that the "annoyed" people you describe would turn to Trump over this. If there isn't a better example of someone who has engorged themselves on the very things that have annoyed the people, then I don't know what is...

      1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: People annoyed fancy that

        > I find it hilarious that the "annoyed" people you describe would turn to Trump over this.

        That people left behind by society tend to vote for politicians doing the very worst for them can be observed in many places and at many times. Yes, it's depressing.

  10. J. R. Hartley Silver badge

    Tim Cunt

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Tim Crook

  11. tfewster Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Very patriotic

    Apple would rather pay 40% tax on European profits to the US than 12.5% to Ireland?

    They don't even have that choice if they're hit with an order for back taxes. But I'm sure Uncle Sam would appreciate any excess that gets repatriated.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Very patriotic

      No - they will bitch about the 40% tax rate but by the time they have taken all the deductions it will be closer to 10%. In America it's not the tax rate that's important, it's the deductions that really make the difference.

  12. Mike Shepherd
    Meh

    Poor old Apple

    "Poor old Apple, no what which way it turns, some government is starting to take away its hard-earned cash".

    Now they know how employees feel. Except that in the UK we pay much more, because National Insurance contributions allow high tax on employees' pay and a more modest rate on "investors" (who can move their money elsewhere).

  13. AlexS
    Windows

    Hey but Nigel F Face Farage says this is good news for the UK and Brexit. We will welcome Apple into the UK with open arms tomorrow. We're going to make this corporate heaven! Hey maybe we will pay them rather than collect taxes... Oh Yeah!

    Forget TTIP we're all screwed in the UK now.

  14. whoseyourdaddy
    Trollface

    Huh.

    Apple just knocked their profits and US Tax bill down a notch.

    Ruh Roh.

  15. Bladeforce

    Hard earned cash..

    ...my arse..as with Microsoft they havent invented jack.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not about fair, it's about the law

    (Anonymous because this won't be popular)

    Whatever the moral rights and wrongs of how much tax Apple did or didn't pay, the problem here is about the law. Ireland and Apple entered into an agreement - which you may disagree with, and now it is being upended.

    What does this mean for future investors anywhere in Europe? That they can't be sure that anything that the host government says to them will actually hold water?

    If they said: "naughty children, start paying more taxes now", that would be less damaging than to do it retroactively.

    And if Ireland was 'guilty' too, why don't they get a 'fine'?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: It's not about fair, it's about the law

      Going after sweetheart deals is the best way to get coherent and cooperative international tax policy.

      Sweetheart deals are are a form of state aid. As such they are generally tolerated as long as they are open to all and have clear limitations. Are you seriously arguing that a deal cut between Apple and Ireland in 1991 for preferential treatment, in order to offset the costs of setting up business in Ireland, should still apply today?

      In any case, the real bone of contention is that Apple setup a shell company in Ireland for handling international sales to its subsidiaries but thinks that this shell company should somehow be exempt from even Ireland's low corporate tax rate. So, apparently it's okay to pay corporate tax on business done in Ireland, but apparently not okay to pay corporate tax on business done elsewhere in the EU. In which case, the alternative is surely that Apple should pay the tax (presumably at much higher rates) in the relevant countries.

      The single market exists precisely to avoid this kind of complex accounting and even allows them to play countries off against each other but they must pay tax on all the sales in the EU as a result.

    2. PapaD

      Re: It's not about fair, it's about the law

      Arguably, Ireland and Apple entered into an agreement that was unlawful - this isn't the EU coming along and changing the rules, its coming along and enforcing the rules that both Ireland and Apple already knew about.

      Ireland should never have entered into such a deal with Apple (and a whole bunch of other companies), and I seriously doubt if any of Apple's lawyers or accountants weren't totally aware of the dubiousness of the agreement they entered in to.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: It's not about fair, it's about the law

        "I seriously doubt if any of Apple's lawyers or accountants weren't totally aware of the dubiousness of the agreement they entered in to."

        Exactly! It's not as if Apple can claim their US trained lawyers and accountants were "unaware" of the nuances of Irish law since any practising lawyers and accountants working on the deal for Apple would have to be qualified under Irish law to practice. If Apple didn't do due diligence on their legal advisers then they take the hit. Maybe they looked at the law books but were "reading it wrong". Oops. Karma.

    3. David Beck

      Re: It's not about fair, it's about the law

      Correct, the people most unhappy if Apple pay up will be the Irish Finance Ministry. No company in its right mind would commit based on the Ministry's legal position since that could be over turned by the Commission using anything they happen to have a "competency" in, in this case monopoly. The Commission doesn't have "competency" in tax, yet, I but can imagine Junker licking his lips now.

      Not anonymous since I don't really care what a bunch of whiners think, I raised a teenager to adulthood without killing it.

    4. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: It's not about fair, it's about the law

      > Ireland and Apple entered into an agreement - which you may disagree with, and now it is being upended.

      > And if Ireland was 'guilty' too, why don't they get a 'fine'?

      I seem to recall reading that the €13bn is not a fine, merely an unpaid tax bill.

      As to the agreement, I believe the entire argument from the EU side of things is that EU members commit to not entering into company-specific tax agreements, therefore Ireland were technically breaking an agreement with the EU by making this agreement with Apple.

      For me, the whole mess is down to global tax legislation enabling "tax efficient planning" which means that Apple can hang onto a huge pile of cash and wait for the correct timings to actually declare it as a profit that can be then spent.

  17. Brian Catt

    It's a fair cop. Apple was and is dodging taxes. Nation states that collude in this like the irish are just as bad. The rules should be simple. The corporations profits and overheads are taxed in the country they are made in proportion to the revenue they generate there, net of reasonable overheads and a direct COGs. Simple.

    The solution is simple and obvious, if the appropriate GAAP measurements were agreed. Pay your taxes where you realise your real profits in cash, with overhead and direct costs allocaed in proportion globally, not where it suits you, so the country where the most goods are bought benefits most from the taxes raised, not the greedy owners or another country where they weren't. That is what taxation is for. What is expected of domestic businesses in taxation. Where is the benefit to the consuming state and its citizens of Apple's conduct? Making the profits from their shiny overpriced toys and taking them away to another land far away is multinational colonialism, giving nothing back to the economy that hosts them vs what is expected of a domestic company. How is that decent, honest or truthful? Pay up or get out. Great products, immoral Company. Governments that collude in this by hosting these Pirates in some modern day Tortuga that costs their neighbours $Billion in lost taxation for a handful of Euros and jobs back, nothing compared to what the hosted corporation saves, are as dishonest. They have included, Luxembourg, Ireland, Holland, etc. They compete to host tax dodgers, as do UK offshore Islands. This movement of profits to low tax low reporting requirements regimes has been going on for sure since I was taught how to do it in International Business at Business School in 1974. The people in power in the UK don't want to stop it either, just protest appropriately. I wonder why? Follow the money, ours, into their pockets, as little back as the corporations and their government elite law makers can get away with, across the world. The corrupt crony capitalist system we vote for, and allow to continue in our so called democracies. So the EU did a good thing. Pay fair taxes where you make profits, Apple, like domestic competition must. BTW.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back to the workhouse

    In reference to the "0.005% was available to anyone who asked" statement from a few days ago...

    Please sir, can I have some less?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For my downvoters

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/01/eu-state-aid-tax-avoidance-apple

    "But you cannot change the rules of the game through ad hoc state aid enforcement, and then seek retroactive recovery for unpaid taxes. Doing so would be fundamentally unfair and would harm competition, growth and tax income in Europe. And it raises serious questions about legal certainty and the rule of law."

    - Neelie Kroes, former EU commissioner.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: For my downvoters

      That Kroes so cozy with many multinationals - remind me in which boards she seats now? And which country she comes from? Isn't one that is opposing EU going after tax loopholes because it is one that is taking advantage of them? Little conflicts of interests, maybe?

      And it looks to me no rules was changed - only appl(i)ed.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: For my downvoters

      Still anonymous we see. Could be any of the many clueless wankers out there.

      By doing so, the commission risks undermining the important work carried out within the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD) through its “Base Erosion and Profit Shifting” (BEPS) project.

      This is probably the weakest argument of all that have been presented. Only by aggressively going after the various wheezes is the commission going to get the proper attention of the US and any kind meaningful deal with BEPS. The lobbyists, to which illustrious group Kroes returned after her time in the commission, have been busy watering down the proposals since they were first made.

      This is similar to when the US decided to go after Switzerland, where coincidentally I think Apple did its amusing bond issue for share buybacks because to do so with cash would have required repatriation and paying tax, about money laundering that convinced the Swiss government that international banking licences were worth more that banking secrecy.

      There is definitely scope for negotiation over the total amount to be paid and that's where Apple and the Irish government should be focussing their energies.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Only 40%?

    For those few in Canada paying net taxes the overall tax rate is well above 40%. For the average family tax freedom day is in June, not April, or January as it appears to be for most large companies.

  21. Tubz

    If Apple throw enough $$$ at Hilary or Trump election campaigns, I'm sure they will get the tax rate they need. You don't get voted in to the Whitehouse, you buy your way in !

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      I think you'll find that Trump's plans are only intended to apply to his companies and family. This is one of the reasons why the Koch brothers (the loathsome duo) aren't spending any money on his campaign.

  22. Alistair Thomas

    No tax on profits, no sales

    If Apple want to play silly games and pretend that the profits aren't made in the countries that provide their sales revenue, then let's just close all Apple stores in Europe other than in Ireland until this "misunderstanding" can be sorted out - they aren't making any profit, so no harm, no foul. Since the tax hasn't been paid, all licenses issued by Apple to consumers are invalid and using such products should be ruled illegal. Users should be offered the ability to continue using such products by applying directly to their national government to pay the 12.5% on Apple's behalf. Apple is practically a religion anyway; for its supporters, it will be like handing round the collection plate for this "worthy" cause.

    In short, if Apple want a sales/tax war, we should give it to them. There is no obligation to allow Apple to sell products in Europe. Tim Cook may not have noticed, but it's not just infrastructure, education and health that suffers when companies don't pay a fair share. We have a global problem in the Middle East causing millions to have to flee their homes, and the US is no small player in this affair. We need responsible global citizens (companies included) to play their part so that we have the resources to fix these issues and deal with the consequences for those innocents so adversely affected. Shame on you Apple - you make M$ look like veritable angels by comparison.

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