A re-blog this week. This is a great post from the Freakonomics blog on the climate change debate – or fact perhaps more correctly. It makes interesting reading.
I wrote this post as a guest post for my fellow blogger Mark Holtzman (see accountinator.com)
Many of you are probably familiar with Ireland’s low rate of corporation tax – 12.5%. It has been the subject of many articles and much criticism over the years and in recent times – articles including companies such as Google and Facebook and terms such as “the Dutch sandwich”. So, for the benefit of anyone outside Ireland, let me try to explain a few things and give my opinion for what it is worth. By the way, I am no tax expert.
Ireland is a small island with little or no natural resources – except our scenery and Guinness perhaps. As a result, we have never had any serious indigenous manufacturing. Thus, at some point in the 1970’s a 10% corporate tax rate on manufacturing was introduced. All other businesses paid a higher rate, which I think was 33%. I remember learning tax in college and with this difference in rates, some companies stretched the definition of manufacturing. There was one case I recall which involved determining whether or not banana ripening was manufacturing. The courts ruled in was and since then, is the largest banana exporter in Europe. It’s true, and no banana republic jokes ! The outcome of this case resulted in a large infrastructure being developed in the country for banana ripening.
Now, our corporate tax rate is 12.5 % for all business. So we cannot say Ireland is a tax haven – as all companies are treated the same. But it is fair to say we are a low tax economy. Our European neighbours (Germany in particular) complain, and there are many reports on large US companies avoiding US taxes by being based in Ireland or using Ireland’s low tax rates to transfer profits through Ireland. So is this good or bad? Well, there is no correct answer to this, and of course the answer depends on your perspective. From my perspective as an Irish person and accountant, it is good – jobs are created, more taxes are brought in than if the rate were higher for example. The German government don’t seem to like our low tax rate – their rate is higher apparently – and there are rumblings to have a more common Europe wide tax rate.
But are low tax rates good? Perhaps they can be. Last year when our government was preparing its budget one economist showed that and 11% rate of value-added tax (like a sales tax) would yield the budget deficit. The current VAT rates are 23%, 13.5%, 9% and 0%. – depending on the type of good or service. If all this was replaced with a single 11% rate, an annual additional intake of €1.5 billion would occur assuming demand was stable. Another idea on low tax rates is that if the rate is lower, more people will pay – or put it another way, less will avoid it. In the 1980’s our income tax rate topped 60%. Small business in particular hid money in off-shore accounts. By the early 1990’s, the top rate had decreased to 48% (now 41%). The tax authorities had a tax amnesty, whereby heavy penalties and interest were waived on the off-shore monies. This, and the lower tax rate, brought many thousands of people into the tax net. And as the tax rate has stayed lower than previous times, these businesses have by and large stayed in the tax net and the black economy is less than previous.
A final point when comparing tax rates is what do we mean by tax. For example, all businesses in Ireland pay very expensive rates to the local council/municipal authority. In other countries, this is much less. For example, certain German states keep their local taxes low to attract investment. So before comparing headlines tax rates, we have to ask are we comparing apples with apples. As any management accounting student knows, we cannot compare figures which are not comparable as a basis for decision-making.
I hope you find these thoughts useful. I have included some links below which may be relevant.
- Editorial: Cut corporate taxes to bring business back (ocregister.com)
- Be Glad You’re Not Living in One of the Those Terrible High-Tax Countries (irishleftreview.org)
- U.S. Tax Rates Are Really Low (washingtonmonthly.com)
- Insight: In Europe’s tax race, it’s the base, not the rate, that counts (Reuters) (newsdaily.com)
In June this year, I was watching a programme called “The men who made us eat more” on BBC. It told the story of how super-size portions and combo-meals came about in fast-food chains like McDonalds, Burger King and other similar ones. One of the participants mentioned how the profit margin on the extra portion (or the additional products in a combo-meal) is huge. He explained why, and the explanation is again an application of understanding costs and volumes (or CVP).
Let’s take the example of a portion of french fries. If we think about the cost of a regular size portion first. The variable cost would be mainly the ingredients, i.e. potato, packaging cost and maybe energy costs. There would be quite a few fixed costs – all the costs associated with the running of the restaurant, including staff costs (they need to be paid even if there are no food orders). Now if we make the portion size larger, the additional cost will be very small – some extra ingredients, a slightly bigger package and that’s about it. But, the price increase is proportionately much higher than the cost increase usually. Thus, by encouraging a customer to super-size or buy a combo-deal, profits can rise at a much faster rate than the corresponding increase in costs.
Back in February this year I wrote a short post about how Tesco were increasing their use of rail travel to reduce CO2 emissions. It was a good example of how to change your business to both deliver cost savings and be more environmentally friendly. In the February 2012 edition of CIMA’s Financial Management (pp 26.30), there is a great article written by Ben Schiller which provides a number of examples of firms which are seeking ways to reduce transport costs and CO2 emissions. One quote from the article sums up the problems around transport costs “many ships operating today were built to run on $150 a tonne bunker fuel, not a price four times that”. Of course, it is not only ships but all forms of transport which are facing these price increases, such as road haulage and even company cars (for example, when I bought my first diesel car just over 3 years ago, diesel was 99 cent per litre at my local station, now it’s over €1.50). As a result of these increasing costs, we can see more sleek looking fuel-efficient trucks for example on our motorways.
I found Ben Schiller’s article really great less for some examples we might know about – chip fat being converted to biodiesel, electric vehicles – but more for some real examples from firms we all probably know well. The first way firms can save on transport costs (and green up) is to bring production closer to the market – L’Oreal for example have brought some of their supply chain in-house, by producing thinks like packaging on-site. A second way, is to change the modes of transport. For example, both Philips and Tesco use canals to transport bulky product. Phillips use barges to transport goods to Rotterdam port, while Tesco ship wine between Liverpool and Manchester. In Spain, SEAT rebuilt a short rail line to Barcelona port, carrying 80,000 cars annually using 2 trains a day. Even large shipping companies like Maersk are doing things like “slow-steaming ” (or sailing slower) to reduce CO2 emissions and fuel costs.
There are more examples in the article itself. You can read an online summary here.
Over the years, economies have suffered many currency crises, soaring interest rates and hyper-inflation. Luckily, in my time as an accountant I have not had to deal with financial statements or other accounting information where the value of money became, well worthless. Runaway inflation for example occurred in Germany in the 1920’s and today it is still present in countries like Zimbabwe. In times of hyper-inflation, accounting standards do give us some guidance. IAS 29 suggests hyperinflation may have several characteristics
1) the general population prefers to keep its wealth in non-monetary assets or in a relatively stable foreign currency. Amounts of local currency held are immediately invested to maintain purchasing power;
2) the general population regards monetary amounts not in terms of the local
currency but in terms of a relatively stable foreign currency. Prices may be quoted in that currency;
3) sales and purchases on credit take place at prices that compensate for the expected loss of purchasing power during the credit period, even if the period is short;
4) interest rates, wages and prices are linked to a price index; and
5) the cumulative inflation rate over three years is approaching, or exceeds, 100%.
Without going into too much detail on IAS 29, when such hyperinflation exists, the financial statements have to be restated to a monetary value using some form of price index.
I recently had the good luck to see real financial statements prepared during a hyperinflation period. The accounts were if a German brewery and dated back to 31/12/1923 – long before IAS 29 was even thought about. The inventory figure had 18 digits, which I think is called a quintillion. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to deal with figures like this. Mind you the kinds of figures being thrown around nowadays on sovereign debt are getting close to these kind of numbers. Just out of interest the accounts on 1/1/1924, showed a figure of about 2 million marks – a new mark was issued and pegged to gold I think.
A small delve into economics, sorry. I read this article on the Wall Street Journal about my homeland (well, my dear home too!) and it make me think, well, we not total gobshites! Of course, we’re not, no matter what Fr. Jack (left says!). But in all seriousness, I can’t help but compare what the articles says to my own experience of talking to and helping small Irish businesses. I don’t know anyone who is not worried about the future of their business, but yet they all pulled-up their socks and did what any management accountant would advise – look at your costs, your processes, what you do and so on. I know two businesses who realised they needed to work 3-days weeks for almost a year, but they are now fine again. Others dropped price, or just worked smarter. I also can think of others who just would not adjust their cost structure, prices, staff or anything. Where do you think these guys are? Well nowhere simply. Of those businesses that adapted to survive, they have learned a hard lesson on cost structures, doing things well, adjusting price and looking after customers. Those, like the WSJ article say about Ireland, will be the stronger firms in the future ( I hope ).
I don’t write very often about economics and politics- not really my thing. However, while on holidays I read a great article in the Guardian about the on-going pension problem/debate in the public and private sector. Have a read, I think it is a great summary of the many issues with our future pensions. Here us the link http://m.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/jul/03/pensions-unions-government-young-sacrificed?cat=business&type=article
If you have studied business or economics, you’ll know what an opportunity cost is. Just in case, an opportunity cost is the cost forgone by choosing one course of action over another. I often ask my students ” what is the opportunity cost of who sitting here listening to me? Can you put a money value on it?” Usually one or two of them realise that they could be out working, so they answer with the minimum wage rate, which is a reasonable answer.
Two things prompted me to write this post. First, someone I know was made redundant as a systems trainer a few years ago, due to the role being outsourced. Now, after much failures by the outsourcing company, that same person is back in the company as a contractor earning a tidy daily fee. Why? Well, the outsourcing/redundancy meant a huge body of knowledge was lost from the company, which to cut it short resulted in poor systems training. I wonder how much this mistake actually cost the company? WI had this thought in the back of my mind when I read a post on Marc Lepere’s Blog on the CIMAGlobal website. Marc talks about the opportunity costs of employees. It’s not something I have ever thought about, but I think he is right on the button. Marc’s company have devised too useful concepts called Cost of Replacing Talent® (CORT) and Cost of Loosing Talent®. Taking both together, you can imagine a substantial cost of losing valuable staff. In my example, the cost of loosing talent included a massive knowledge loss, which is a cost that might be hard to put a monetary value on but is a cost. Within the CORT is an estimate of the opportunity cost of replacing staff, which is something like the time in weeks it take the new staff to become effective. This could be up to 30 weeks for senior managers, according to the post. So be careful when putting too much pressure on your staff; losing the good ones costs more than you might think.
I don’t normally delve too much into the world of economics and marketing, but this piece from The Economist (April 15th, 2010) caught my eye.
Antoine van Agtmael, a Dutch investment banker, actually coined the phrase “emerging markets” almost 30 years ago. In this time some of what were emerging markets are now the largest markets in the world – China and India for example. Market knowledge is a must for any business, even small ones, but when a business gets to the global level a detailed knowledge of (and arguably a presence in) all global markets is a must – emerging markets included. Van Agtmael cautions though on the use of the term “emerging markets”. Some markets, for example China, Brazil, South Korea and Mexico, have not only emerged, but upstaged developed economies. For example, the SamSung brand from South Korea is one of the worlds best known electronics brands. Perhaps a mindset change is needed to appreciate the business challenges of some economies which have now well and truly emerged.
Here’s a link to the full article: Schumpeter: An emerging challenge | The Economist.