Unstructured Finance

Essential reading: How Apple keeps its tax bill low, KPMG inquiry in UK, and more

   

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* How Apple sidesteps billions in taxes. Charles Duhigg and David Kocieniewski – The New York Times. As it stands, Apple Inc paid cash taxes of $3.3 billion around the world on its reported profits of $34.2 billion last year, a tax rate of 9.8 percent. Apple was a pioneer of an accounting technique known as the “Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich,” which reduces taxes by routing profits through Irish subsidiaries and the Netherlands and then to the Caribbean. Today, that tactic is used by hundreds of other corporations — some of which directly imitated Apple’s methods, say accountants at those companies. Without such tactics, Apple’s federal tax bill in the United States most likely would have been $2.4 billion higher last year. Link  

* KPMG faces inquiry over rescue of HBOS. Helia Ebrahimi – The Sunday Telegraph. Accountancy giant KPMG could face a formal investigation by the UK’s accountancy watchdog for its conduct leading up to the rescue of HBOS by Lloyds TSB. HBOS whistleblower and former head of risk, Paul Moore, has referred KPMG to the regulator in a formal complaint. Moore also has written to Treasury select committee chairman Andrew Tyrie, seeking his support. Moore’s complaint comes a week after it emerged that the former head of HBOS’s corporate bank, Peter Cummings, is to fight a seven-figure fine handed out by the Financial Services Authority for his part in the collapse of the bank. Link  

* Amazon seals sales tax deal with Texas. Barney Jopson – The Financial Times. Amazon has struck an unexpected deal with Texas to start collecting sales tax from consumers at the start of July, in a further sign of its readiness to accept a levy that it had long opposed at state level. Under the deal Amazon will invest at least $200 million to build distribution centers in Texas and create at least 2,500 jobs over the next four years while beginning to collect sales tax on July 1. Link  

* US election noise obscures approaching fiscal precipice – Robin Harding – The Financial Times. The path to economic recovery runs along the edge of a fiscal cliff and few countries seem able to walk it without falling off. As 2012 turns into 2013, by political design, the income tax cuts passed by former president George W. Bush will expire, a temporary payroll tax cut will end, and spending cuts worth $1.2 trillion over 10 years will come into effect. This amounts to an overnight fiscal tightening of about 4 percent of gross domestic product. It means an automatic recession unless Congress acts to stop it. Link  

* Sarkozy on defensive in bitter final election battle. Catherine Bremer and Daniel Flynn – Reuters. French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for tougher borders and a stronger national identity on Sunday and accused the left of petty slander as he struggled to catch up with his Socialist rival a week before a presidential runoff. Francois Hollande’s tax-and-spend program seeks to balance the budget in 2017, a year after Sarkozy, who wants to trim labor costs to boost competitiveness. Analysts say that whoever wins, big austerity cuts will be needed in the months ahead. Link  

Calendar

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Some important tax and accounting dates in the week ahead

Monday, April 30
* The U.S. Internal Revenue Service hearing on limited partnerships and taxpayer participation, to start at 10 a.m. EDT in the IRS Auditorium.
* American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) three-day conference on investments, auditing and tax questions, compliance fundamentals, internal control, and healthcare reform, Atlanta. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor Phyllis Borzi will speak.
* AICPA two-day conference on tax strategies for high-income individuals, Belagio Hotel, Las Vegas.

Tuesday, May 1
* The D.C. Bar Taxation Section Real Estate Committee luncheon program, IRS officials Sam Kamyans and Rosty Stiller to speak.

Wednesday, May 2
* AICPA conference on tax controversy, and small business practitioners. Speakers include IRS Office of Professional Responsibility Director Karen Hawkins and Karen Sheely from the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service, Las Vegas.

Essential reading: H&R Block cuts back, Supreme Court restrains IRS, and more

U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Molly Riley

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* H&R Block to close stores, cut jobs. Jochelle Mendonca – Reuters. H&R Block said the head of its U.S. retail tax services unit resigned, and the top U.S. tax preparer announced another round of store closures and job cuts, as it realigns its business to focus on the fast-growing digital tax market. Separately, the company said the number of tax filings it prepared through April 18, grew 4.5 percent to 22.2 million. Link

* Supreme Court restrains IRS in tax shelter case. Patrick Temple-West – Reuters. The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the Internal Revenue Service took too much time to try to collect back taxes from a business in a tax shelter case, a decision with wider impact for dozens of related cases. The high court said the agency could not use an extended, six-year statute of limitations period. The IRS had said the extended period, an exception from the normal three-year limit, was justified in the case. But the court disagreed with the tax-collecting agency in a 5-4 decision in United States v. Home Concrete & Supply LLC. Link

* French front-runner says he’d seek to renegotiate fiscal treaty if elected. Steven Erlanger and Nicholas Kulish – The New York Times. The front-runner for the French presidency, the Socialist candidate François Hollande, said on Wednesday that if elected he would ask other European leaders to renegotiate a fiscal treaty in order to promote growth. He said he would also call for a financial transaction tax, as his rival, President Nicolas Sarkozy has done. Link

Tax returns as campaign fodder

Tax returns are playing a role in Senate campaigns this year as candidates reveal intimate, sometimes awkward financial details.

In Massachusetts, Democratic U.S. Senate challenger Elizabeth Warren put herself in an awkward position when she revealed last week that she did not pay the higher of  two state income tax rates. Massachusetts allows residents to voluntarily pay 5.85 percent or the state’s standard 5.3 percent rate.

Warren has been a supporter of the Buffett Rule, which calls for a minimum tax for high-income earners, named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett who backs the rule being promoted by President Barack Obama.

Essential reading: Amazon will collect Nevada sales tax, debating tax cuts, more

A rainbow appears over hotels on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, REUTERS/Ethan Miller

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* Amazon agrees to begin collecting sales taxes in Nevada.  The Wall Street Journal. Amazon.com Inc. has agreed to collect a sales tax on items sold in Nevada beginning in 2014, or earlier should proposed federal legislation mandate that online retailers collect sales taxes. The online retailing giant said it will collect taxes in the same manner as traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, an agreement that is expected to raise at least $16 million a year for the state, according to the Las Vegas Sun, which initially reported the news. Link

* German cabinet approves Swiss tax deal. Madeline Chambers – Reuters. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet passed a revised deal to tax secret deposits in Swiss bank accounts on Wednesday, betting that the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) will drop their objections and back the accord in parliament. Switzerland and Germany hammered out the new deal earlier this month after a diplomatic spat that lasted years. Link

Essential reading: Looking for tax money to fund a student loan break, WIN America shuts down, more

A student studies on the campus of San Francisco State University in San Francisco, California REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* ‘Loophole’ closing eyed to fund student loan policy. Carol Lee and John McKinnon – The Wall Street Journal. The White House and Senate Democrats are looking at ending a tax provision benefiting some small business owners to pay for a year-long extension of a freeze in student loan interest rates, which are scheduled to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent this summer, people familiar with the discussions said. The measure would change a feature of tax law that critics say has allowed many owners of small businesses—particularly those known as Subchapter S corporations—to escape employment taxes on much of their earnings. Link

* SEC charges SinoTech, execs with lying to investors. Sarah Lynch – Reuters. U.S. securities regulators charged China-based SinoTech Energy Ltd and its senior executives with misleading investors on Monday, part of an effort to crack down on accounting problems at Chinese companies listed in the United States. The Securities and Exchange Commission’s civil suit, filed in a U.S. district court in Louisiana, alleges that the oil field services company and its executives “continuously and intentionally misled investors” about the value of its assets and how it used the $120 million in proceeds from its November 2010 initial public offering. Link

Essential reading: Seeking common ground in Washington, shorting India on tax fears, more

A tea vendor holds an umbrella at a roadside in Mumbai. REUTERS/Sima Dubey

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* In presidential race’s give-and-take, hope for a fiscal compromise. John Harwood – The New York Times. Some elected officials and policy experts see improving odds for 2012 to end up yielding much more, including progress toward a deal on tax and budget issues that have confounded Washington’s divided government. Some say the campaign dialogue could even bring a deal closer. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, a member of the Finance Committee, recently urged fellow Republicans to accept Democrats’ demand for some tax increases, as long as Democrats accepted the longstanding argument by conservatives that revenue calculations account for at least some positive effect on economic growth from changes in the tax code. Link 

* Macquarie hedge fund exits short bets in India on tax fears. Nishant Kumar – Reuters. Macquarie’s Asia hedge fund has exited its short positions in Indian single stock futures in response to a controversial set of proposed tax rules that could lower investment returns. Foreign investors have raised concerns on two recent Indian provisions to tax indirect investments and combat tax evasion. Link

* Filmmaker wins case against IRS. Michael Cieply – The New York Times. Documentary filmmakers can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the producer and director Lee Storey won her case last week against the commissioner of Internal Revenue in United States Tax Court. The IRS tried to disallow Storey’s deduction of expenses incurred while making and marketing the film “Smile ’Til It Hurts: The Up With People Story.” Link 

Closing the $450 billion tax gap

Fundamental tax reform, more funding for the IRS, and increased third-party disclosure were among the many solutions to the $450 billion tax gap offered at a Congressional hearing Thursday.

Closing the gap between taxes owed and taxes paid will require a multi-faceted approach, testified James R. White, the director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) before the IRS oversight subcommittee of the House of Representatives. (His testimony and report is available here.)

Growth in the tax gap, which added $105 billion between 2001 and 2006 (their most recent figures), has made it more urgent, though closing the entire gap may not be possible given public resistance to excessive government intrusion and limits on IRS resources, White noted.

Fate of ex-UBS client cases uncertain, lawyers say

Tax lawyers are divided over the legal consequences of the bruising defeat in court of a billionaire former client of UBS AG who sued the Swiss bank for allegedly giving him incorrect tax advice.

On April 10, Judge Andrew Guilford of U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Calif., dismissed a case brought by Igor Olenicoff, a Russia-born property developer. Olenicoff had accused the bank of improperly telling him he didn’t have to disclose certain Swiss-held assets on his U.S. tax returns.

In ruling for UBS, the judge said that because Olenicoff had been convicted in 2007 of tax evasion and of lying on his tax returns about having offshore accounts, he did not have a solid claim of fraud and breach of fiduciary duty against UBS. Judge Guilford wrote that because Olenicoff had admitted to tax evasion, he had placed “nearly every room of his legal house of cards into jeopardy.”

UF Weekend Reads

Nice weather today in NYC. Enjoy it today before Sunday’s deluge. Here’s Sam Forgione’s picks. You can now follow Sam on twitter @samuelforgione

 

From The New Yorker:

Nicholas Lemann explores new books that illustrate the ties between politics and the economy.

From BusinessWeek:

Lazard’s Michele Lamarche takes on the tough task of courting debt-strapped nations.

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