Earlier this month, several American companies were put under the microscope because of suspicions of generous tax breaks abroad. Among the companies implicated in the corporate scandals was Apple, Inc., to date the richest company in history. Here’s what happened in a nutshell.
Where’s this figure coming from?
The €13 billion ($14.5 USD) tax fine is the amount owed by Apple to Ireland, which has been giving the company relaxed tax rates. For years, Ireland has been known as a tax haven. But the Apple situation involves the use of loopholes and tax behavior far from the already-lenient norm. The investigation by the European Commission found that there were actually two favorable tax rulings in Ireland that artificially lowered the tax rate for the American tax company. Surprisingly, the first of these rulings came out in 1991, some 16 years before the release of the iPhone in 2007— the year of the second ruling. In 2003, Apple was paying a tax rate of about 1 percent, but in 2014 the effective rate dipped to 0.005%. This low rate was the result of a creative loophole: Apple’s two Irish entities both recorded profits but attributed them to a mysterious “head office”. The result? Those profits couldn’t be taxed at all. The fine has also set a record of its own— it’s the highest amount of back taxes ever named by the EU.
Is Anyone Besides the EU On Board with These Payments?
Not really. Apple, Ireland, and the US Department of Treasury are all disputing the fine. Apple CEO Tim Cook has argued that profits should only be “taxed in the country where value is created”, which for the company means that only US tax bills are acceptable. The Irish Finance Minister is also against the decision, implying that forcing the company to pay the fine would tarnish the integrity of their nation’s tax system. The Treasury Department has also expressed displeasure with the fine, albeit from a different angle. It feels the EU Commission’s investigations routinely target American companies, and that forcing Apple to comply with the ruling would not only run contrary to established Irish tax precedent but force all EU member states to reexamine their tax policies.
You’d think such a bill would be reflected in trends for the company’s stock. Yet, it’s still performing relatively well, dropping by only .65% over the past week. The reason for this is probably shareholder confidence in the company. As Fortune points out, each dollar of Apple is valued at about $4.50, so a tax bill of $14.5 billion USD could translate into lost market share of around $62.25 billion. Fortune has a straightforward analysis of what the fine means with respect to market cap and expected earnings. Even though that’s far from good news, shareholders are still behaving like nothing really happened. So even though it may not be an accurate reflection of the situation now, perhaps investor behavior will change when Apple finally starts paying up.