Francois Hollande, Socialist Party candidate for the 2012 French presidential election REUTERS/Jacky NaegelenWelcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* U.S. corporate tax rates hit 10-year low. Telis Demos – The Financial Times. The effective tax rate paid by large U.S. public companies fell to its lowest in a decade in the fourth quarter last year as an increasing amount of revenue was generated outside of the country. According to figures compiled by Morgan Stanley, the unweighted average tax rate paid by the largest 1,500 U.S. public companies by market value in the fourth quarter was 31.9 percent of pre-tax income. About 100 companies are yet to report for the quarter. That puts the period on track for the lowest average in any quarter since 2001 and off sharply from the 35.4 per cent paid a year ago. Link

* Companies assess risks of tax planning. Vanessa Houlder – The Financial Times. Businesses are scrambling to assess the reputational risks of tax planning, after the closure of two “highly abusive” schemes designed by Barclays demonstrated the increasing public scrutiny of big companies’ tax affairs. The Treasury moved aggressively last week to block the bank from exploiting a loophole that could have cost the exchequer 500 million pounds ($792.80 million), marking the latest in a series of high-profile corporate tax disputes. Experts say the cases show how tax has joined executive pay at the forefront of debate over “responsible capitalism,” putting pressure on both the government and companies to demonstrate that businesses are paying their fair share. Link

* Wealth tax hits a nerve in French race for president. David Jolly – The New York Times. François Hollande, the Socialist candidate for the French presidency, stole the spotlight from President Nicolas Sarkozy this week by proposing sharply higher income taxes for the rich, and despite criticism from the right and many economists, the challenger’s standing in the race has not suffered. In fighting for re-election, Sarkozy is burdened by the widespread perception that he is a friend of the rich. Hollande sought to highlight the differences between him and the president on Monday by proposing that those with annual income of more than 1 million euros ($1.32 million) be taxed at a 75 percent rate. While Hollande has declared that “the world of finance is my adversary,” the announcement came as a surprise even to some members of his own party, and Sarkozy was quick to denounce it. Link

* Noda cites progress on contentious sales tax increase. Toko Sekiguchi – The Wall Street Journal. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda faces an increasingly uphill battle to push through a plan to double the nation’s sales tax, struggling to win support from both opposition parties and his own government amid rising global scrutiny of Tokyo’s deteriorating fiscal condition. Noda needs to meet an end of March deadline, as stipulated by the tax law, to submit to parliament a bill that would raise the 5 percent consumption tax to 10 percent by 2015. Despite the public objections from the opposition parties, his own Democratic Party of Japan, and its coalition partner, Noda says that talks on reaching an agreement were showing some progress. He told a news conference with foreign media on Saturday that “I feel a sense that our debate is beginning to jibe.” Link