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Avoiding questions of tax avoidance

If you ask most people whether they like paying tax, the answer would surely be a resounding ‘no’. If asked would you like to pay less tax, most would probably say ‘yes’. Evidence of this can be seen in the behaviour of individuals and of companies, as they aim to reduce their tax bill, through both legal and illegal methods.

Our tax revenues are used for many different things, ranging from the provision of merit goods to the redistribution of income, so for most people they don’t object to paying their way. However, maintaining profitability and increasing disposable income is a key objective for companies and individuals, especially in weak economic times. Some high profile names have received media coverage due to accusations of both tax avoidance and tax evasion. Starbucks, Amazon, Googe and Apple are just some of the big names that have been accused of paying millions of pounds/dollars less in taxation than they should, due to clever (and often legal) methods of avoiding tax.

The problem of tax avoidance has become a bigger issue in recent years with the growth of globalisation. Multinationals have developed to dominate the business world and business/corporation tax rates across the global remain very different. Thus, it is actually relatively easy for companies to reduce their tax burden by locating their headquarters in low tax countries or ensuring that business contracts etc. are signed in these countries. By doing this, any profits are subject to the lower tax rate and are thus such companies are accused of depriving the government of tax revenue. Apple is currently answering questions posed by a US Senate Committee, having been accused of structuring its business to create ‘the holy grail of tax avoidance’.

Many may consider the above and decide that these companies have done little wrong. After all, many schemes aimed at tax avoidance are legal and are often just a clever way of using the system. However, in a business environment dominated by the likes of Google, Apple and Amazon, the impact of tax avoidance may not just be on the government’s coffers. Indeed John McCain, one of the Committee members asked:

…Couldn’t one draw the conclusion that you and Apple have an unfair advantage over domestic based corporations and companies, in other words, smaller companies in this country that don’t have the same ability that you do to locate in Ireland or other countries overseas?

The concern is that with such ability to avoid huge amounts of taxation, large companies will inevitably compete smaller ones out of the market. Local businesses, without the ability to re-locate to other parts of the world, pay their full tax bills, but multinationals legally (in most cases) manage to avoid paying their own share. With a harsh economic climate continuing globally, these large companies that aim to further increase their profitability through such means as tax avoidance will naturally bear the wrath of smaller businesses and individuals that are struggling to get by. It’s likely that this topic will remain in the media for some time. The following articles consider some of the companies accused of participating in tax avoidance schemes and the consequences of doing so.

Is Apple’s tax avoidance rational? BBC News, Robert Peston (21/5/13)
Apple’s Tim Cook defends tax strategy in Senate BBC News (21/5/13)
Senator accuses Apple of ‘highly questionable’ billion-dollar tax avoidance scheme The Guardian, Dominic Rushe (21/5/13)
Apple’s Tim Cook faces tax avoidance questions Sky News (21/5/13)
EU leaders look to end Apple-style tax avoidance schemes Reuters, Luke Baker and Mark John (21/5/13)
Apple Chief Tim Cook defends tax practices and denies avoidance Financial Times, James Politi (21/5/13)
Apple CEO Tim Cook tells Senate: tiny tax bill isn’t our fault, it’s yours Independent, Nikhil Kumar (21/5/13)
Miliband promises action on Google tax avoidance The Telegraph (19/5/13)
Google is cheating British tax payers out of millions…what they are doing is just immoral’: Web giant accused of running ‘scandalous’ tax avoidance scheme by whistleblower Mail Online, Becky Evans (19/5/13)
Multinational CEOs tell David Cameron to rein in tax avoidance rhetoric The Guardian, Simon Bowers, Lawrie Holmes and Rajeev Syal (20/5/13)
Fury at corporate tax avoidance leads to call for a global response The Guardian, Tracy McVeigh (18/5/13)

Questions

  1. What is the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance? Is it rational to engage in such schemes?
  2. What are tax revenues used for?
  3. Why are multinationals more able to engage in tax avoidance schemes?
  4. Is the problem of tax avoidance a negative consequence of globalisation?
  5. How might the actions of large multinationals who are avoiding paying large amounts of tax affect the competitiveness of the global market place?
  6. Is there justification for a global policy response to combat the issue of tax avoidance?
  7. What are the costs and benefits to a country of having a low rate of corporation tax?
  8. How would a more ‘reasonable’ tax on foreign earnings allow the ‘free movement of capital back to the US’?
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WPP: When Profits Prevail?

Advertising is a costly venture, but for firms in a highly competitive market it can be essential for success. During the recession, many firms had to make a variety of cut backs and reduced advertising for many was one of the key areas to go.

However, one of the leading advertising companies – WPP – has posted significant profits this year, which are up by some 18.5%, reaching £1.008bn. According to Sir Martin Sorrell, a key factor in this success is that many firms, whilst not looking to increase their market share, have felt the need to continue advertising, simply to maintain their existing market share. This has become especially important in growing markets, as competition has become more and more intense.

This new is not only good for the company in question, but also for the UK economy, as the firm has said that it will be moving its headquarters back from Ireland to the UK. This is assuming that legislation is passed concerning the taxation of profits earned abroad. If this relocation does go ahead, it could mean the creation of many more jobs in the UK and a boost to tax revenues, both of which are crucial for the UK economy. As Sir Martin Sorrell said:

‘I am delighted to say that the last remaining issues I think have been removed subject to legislation being introduced in Parliament. We will be coming back subject to shareholder approval’.

WPP believes growth throughout 2012 will be high, due to events such as the Olympics and the US Presidential elections, together with its strength in emerging economies. At the moment, this all looks like good new for the UK and oh how it’s needed!

WPP profit up ahead of 2012 Olympics boost Reuters (1/3/12)
WPP’s Martin Sorrell says he is likely to move HQ back to London Guardian, Mark Sweney (1/3/12)
Olympics, Election to boost WPP Wall Street Journal, Kathy Gordon (1/3/12)
WPP breaks £1bn profit barrier Guardian, Mark Sweney (1/3/12)
WPP boosts dividend after strong year Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw and Mark Wembridge (1/3/12)
WPP profits reach record in 2011 BBC News (1/3/12)

Questions

  1. What is market share and how can it be calculated?.
  2. What is the purpose of advertising. Using a supply and demand diagram, illustrate the effect the advertising should have. Think about the position and the shape of the curves.
  3. Why is advertising an area that did see cut backs throughout the recession?
  4. Do you think that advertising is more important for firms in growing markets? Explain your answer.
  5. Why did WPP relocate to Ireland and what may bring it back to the UK?
  6. How have WPP’s dividend payments been affected by this latest profit information?
  7. During a recession, competition tends to become more intense. Why is this and what role does advertising play?
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Illogical logistics?

Ginsters is a large producer of pasties in Cornwall. Most of its ingredients come from Cornwall, but the pasties are sold throughout Britain. But, not surprisingly, they are also sold in Cornwall. In fact, there is a large Tesco virtually next door to the Ginsters’ pasty plant and, as you can imagine, it does a good trade in Ginsters’ pasties, pies and sandwiches. After all, they are a local product.

But are they delivered directly from the Ginsters’ factory? No they are not. In fact, they are sent by lorry to the Avonmouth distribution depot, some 125 miles away, only to be sent back again to the Tesco supermarket next door! So does it make economic sense to incur all the costs of transporting the pasties 250 miles only to end up virtually where they started?

It is a similar story with Rodda’s Cornish clotted cream. It is made with Cornish milk but is also sold nationwide. In this case it is transported some 340 miles to get to another Tesco supermarket virtually next door to the Rodda plant.

The following articles and podcast consider the logistics of manufactured food distribution, and ask whether private costs are the only thing that should be taken into account when judging the sense of the system.

Articles
From here to eternity: 340-mile journey for clotted cream made two miles away Guardian, Steven Morris (3/9/10)
Food miles row as pasties travel 250 miles to the supermarket next door This is Cornwall (30/8/10)
Supermarket food mileage ‘completely bonkers’ BBC Today Programme, Tim Lang (30/8/10)

Questions

  1. Why does Tesco’s distribution system for pasties, clotted cream and other products made in parts of the country away from large centres of population make sense in ‘conventional economic terms’?
  2. What economies of scale are there in pasty production and distribution?
  3. What externalities are involved in the distribution of Ginsters’ pasties?
  4. Consider the arguments for and against locating mass producers of food products nearer to the ‘centre of gravity’ of markets.
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