back to article Senate hears Microsoft and HP avoided billions in US taxes

Hearings at the US Senate have been examining how some of the richest technology firms use offshore banking and tax loopholes to avoid having to pay billions to support their native country. "US multinational corporations benefit from the security and stability of the US economy, the productivity and expertise of US workers …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    National Sales Tax

    To replace income and corporate profits taxes. Earn it, bank it, invest it where you want. But if you sell your product or service inside our borders, you collect a tax on it.

    1. blah111
      Thumb Up

      Re: National Sales Tax

      Ding! Someone finally gets it. The other reality is that businesses don't really pay taxes. Consumers, employees, and shareholders (capital) pay taxes and it's usually more of the foremost of those three.

    2. Killraven

      Re: National Sales Tax

      I'm not saying that a National Sales Tax is a bad thing, but that sort of tax puts the majority of the tax burden on the shoulders of the consumer and does naught to change the fact that major corporations are doing all they can to avoid paying their own fair share for the benefits they receive.

      National Sales Tax for consumers.

      Income Tax for non-consumers (i.e., corporations).

      1. Armando 123

        Re: National Sales Tax

        "paying their own fair share for the benefits they receive"

        So as a bachelor for 38 years, I never went to public school nor had children in public school, never got any "social services" benefites, and fully expect that I'll have to bail out Socail Security without getting a dime out of it before I'm eligible.

        Remind me again what is meant by "paying their own fair share"?

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge


          'Remind me again what is meant by "paying their own fair share"?'

          It's living in a society where there are things like police and doctors, and where the people around you were able to do some of these things and consequently haven't turned out frothing at the mouth like the extras in Mad Max.

          If you want to live in a shit-hole with no public services, there are other countries you could emigrate to.

    3. Bill Neal

      Re: National Sales Tax

      Yeah, it is called Fair Tax. Ron Paul was a supporter of the idea. Look where it got him. Sadly most 'murcans think it will price goods out of affordability. Also worth noting: firms in all industries use offshore banking and tax loopholes to avoid having to pay billions to support the US. It is generally expected as part of doing business in this country. Even small businesses do it.

      1. Mr. Great Sage

        Re: National Sales Tax

        @ Bill Neal

        "Sadly most 'murcans think it will price goods out of affordability."

        I'm an American US Citizen. I think cost and demand will drive prices. If you have 'shoe A' and tax+base price = to much, then they won't sell. By them not selling, "Company creating shoe A" will have to re'evaluate their pricing to accommodation for the tax, or they don't make a profit.

        This is exactly the same thing that is happening now, however the consumer is blind to the tax as it's not printed on their receipt.

        Also worth noting: don't write "Americans" as " 'murcans". It just makes your posts read less intelligent.

        1. asdf

          Re: National Sales Tax

          >Also worth noting: don't write "Americans" as " 'murcans". It just makes your posts read less intelligent.

          Us being the land of right wing morons is why they do it. As long as people remember the great orator W Bush that term will be in use sadly as well as them Nucular missiles.

    4. Armando 123

      Re: National Sales Tax

      I remember Senator Richard Lugar proposing this in the late 80s. All the people in the tax industry lobbied HARD against it.

      Seriously, those companies are huge and have a lot of cash; they won't go down without a fight.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "But ethically, at least to this El Reg hack, the situation stinks."

    No it doesn't. What stinks is having such a high tax rate that companies will move the revenue elsewhere. If you want the tax then lower your rates.

    I don't see any ethical dilemma in avoiding as much tax as possible. I do it on a personal level through things such putting my savings into ISA's and buying tax free bonds (when available).

    Anybody who thinks you should pay more tax can always voluntarily give a donation to the tax man.

    1. Arctic fox

      "What stinks is having such a high tax rate.................

      ....................that companies will move the revenue elsewhere. If you want the tax then lower your rates."

      That of course is utter rubbish. When Thatcher's regime in the early eighties made huge cuts in the upper tax bands rich individuals and companies simply said "thank you very much" and carried on avoiding even those taxes. Nothing has ever stopped the "1-percenters" shitting on the rest of society - or stopped apologists like you trotting out the same pernicious rubbish when defending them. It does not matter how much you cut taxes the bastards automatically find all legal and sometimes illegal ways to avoid the taxes they still are supposed to pay - that has been an observable fact for decades.

      1. Shagbag

        "and sometimes illegal ways to avoid the taxes"

        Be careful. EVASION and AVOIDANCE are two different things. Tax evasion is the ILLEGAL non-payment of a legally due tax liability. Tax avoidance is the LEGAL structuring of your affairs to ensure that they LEGALLY comply with tax law.

        Tax avoidance has been around for centuries - ever since the creation of the 'Trust' (or 'Use' as it was then known). Hundreds of years have shown that you'll never eliminate people's desire to structuring their affairs so as to LEGALLY minimise the amount of tax they must pay.

        If you don't like then tough. Complain to your MP that the Government's legislation is not up to the task. Don't forget: it's their legislation that is allowing this to happen.

        1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

          Re: "and sometimes illegal ways to avoid the taxes"

          I worked for a UK company running a subsidiary in the USA for them - standard operating procedure was for them to invoice my company for a "management fee" at the end of each financial year to soak up the profit generated in the US so that the US company always ended up with a net zero income.

          "Perfectly legal" I was told.

      2. Arthur Dent

        Re: "What stinks is having such a high tax rate.................

        @Artic Fox: "When Thatcher's regime in the early eighties made huge cuts in the upper tax bands rich individuals and companies simply said "thank you very much" and carried on avoiding even those taxes"

        It seems remarkable then that the reductions in Income Tax upper bands led to a vast increase in income tax xuccessfully collected by the Inland Revenue. The numbers are in the public domain, and easily found.

        It's unfortunately not at all remarkable that such counterfactual nonsense received so many up-votes.

        I hated most of Thatche's policies, but blatant untruths like yours lead only to a reduction in the credibility of eeryone who objects to "Thatcherism" so I'll correct it whenever I see it.

    2. frank ly

      Re: "But ethically, at least to this El Reg hack, the situation stinks."

      "I do it on a personal level ..."

      Do you, (can you), have your salary paid into a foreign bank account of a service company and then loan yourself money and pay interest to the foreign service company and then pay yourself foreign earned dividends on the profits the foreign service company makes?

      If you could, that would be wonderful and you'd think that was perfectly ok. Why can't you and I do that?

    3. DanceMan

      Re: What stinks is having such a high tax rate

      This moronic thinking is what leads countries like the US into their massive deficits. Some people or some entities have to pay enough taxes to pay for schools, public services, the military, pensions (so you don't depend on having 10 children to support you in old age), etc. Basic math fail.

    4. Killraven

      Re: "But ethically, at least to this El Reg hack, the situation stinks."

      "What stinks is having such a high tax rate that companies will move the revenue elsewhere. If you want the tax then lower your rates."

      What part of the article, where it states that US Corporate Taxes are at an all-time historical low, did you not comprehend?

      1. Arctic fox
        Thumb Up

        @Killraven "What part of the article, where it states that US Corporate Taxes.........

        ...............are at an all-time historical low, did you not comprehend?"

        I fear that in most cases they comprehend all right, it is just that they would rather gnaw their own legs off than admit it because then they would "not have a leg to stand on" - boom, boom. Sorry for that appalling pun, I could not resist it. My point in support of your posting was however entirely seriously meant.



      2. Tom 13

        Re: ...did you not comprehend?

        It's not so much the article as much as it is recognizing that "the hack" and yourself are just as much lying sacks of shite as Levin is. You can't just look at the cost of US taxes, you have to look at the total tax the corporation pays. EVERY country EXCEPT the US permit corporations to deduct foreign taxes when they "repatriate" their money.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "But ethically, at least to this El Reg hack, the situation stinks."

      "What stinks is having such a high tax rate"

      You are missing the point. So does the congress because it as usually thinks that the rest of the world are measly worms not worthy of consideration by the chosen inhabitants ot the holy land of free enterprise.

      There are two parts in the repatriation of income equation - paying USA corporation tax (which is not that bad actually) and paying the costs for "extracting" that income from the local economy of country (or region) X. Usually it is the _SECOND_ part of this equation which corporates are trying to avoid through these dubious schemes.

      So if USA wants to see any of the income from overseas it has to give adequate long term (not one-off amnesty) tax breaks so that it is cheaper for a corporation to pay _BOTH_ the corproration tax in USA and the cost of repatriating the income. It will not be easy though - most countries (regions) will not just sit and take it on the chin. They will raise the costs to repatriate income even further.

      There is actually a third part to this equation. As long as there are big pots of gold overseas they are regularly used to buy companies there. MSFT, HP, etc regularly shop in Eu and Asia. As a result they are not likely to ever face competition even in a small area from _OUTSIDE_ the US (they gobble them in their infancy). Removing this will end up with allowing competitors to US companies to grow to size where they can realistically compete. While good for us on this side of the pond, it is actually bad for USA long term.

    6. h4rm0ny

      Re: "But ethically, at least to this El Reg hack, the situation stinks."

      "No it doesn't. What stinks is having such a high tax rate that companies will move the revenue elsewhere. If you want the tax then lower your rates."

      Which inevitably leads to China or whoever offering lower taxes until all countries have completed in a race to the bottom and no country is charging any company and just being grateful that the company deigns to base its business there.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: "But ethically, at least to this El Reg hack, the situation stinks."

        I have never understood the reluctance of people to pay tax. Living in a country has costs attached to it. A good standard of living requires state intervention (I am waaaaay at the other end of the scale from the Ayn Rand/Lazarus Long* lunacy). People should feel privileged to pay for the things that make civilisation. That includes the companies that want to do business with the people who have lots of disposable income because of the civilisation bought with taxes.

        What is so difficult with that?

        Just reading Heinlein's "Future History" series back to back for the first time!

    7. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Anybody who thinks you should pay more tax

      I think the problem is that most people harbour a niggling belief that someone else is paying less tax than they ought, and that consequently the general rate of taxation has had to be raised to make up the difference.

      This isn't helped by the complexity of tax law, which makes it possible to avoid lots of tax quite legally IF you can afford to pay for professional advice. Companies typically can and the man on the street typically can't.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: I think the problem is

        You don't have to just "think," at this point it's pretty much proven. Every year Forbes gives 10 accountants 3 sets of theoretical books and asks professional accountants to calculate the tax due. Every year they wind up with 10 different results, none of which match the "official" numbers they get by submitting the same data to the IRS.

  3. Nate Amsden

    MS did the same to WA state taxes too

    MS routes a lot of U.S. sales through Nevada to get out of WA state taxes

    Haven't heard if HP does something similar but wouldn't surprise me.

  4. Arctic fox

    Careful Iain old chap............

    "No-one likes paying taxes, but they are fundamental to the environment that built the high tech sector. You need an educated workforce, with enough wages to buy toys like the iPhone, along with a good communications infrastructure and the rule of law, in order to build a successful economy, and that costs money that most companies seem unwilling to pay. ®"

    ...............more of that and Fox News will be denouncing you as a commie. :P

    I entirely agree BTW - see my reply to YAAC (Yet Another Anonymous Coward).

  5. Johnny Canuck

    Tax law is too complex

    The complexity makes it easier for people or corporations with large incomes to pussyfoot around, hiding things here, deferring things there, claiming bogus losses/depreciations etc., which enables them to pay tax rates that are utterly ridiculous. For example, in 2011 Western Digital Corp. paid $40 million in taxes on $2,507 million income - an effective rate of 1.6%! It sure seems to me that most tax systems are designed to let wealthy people and corporations keep their money while squeezing more and more from you and me. I guess this has pushed me into supporting a flat tax system. By the way, watch who complains the most whenever a flat tax is brought up, its usually the same people who are making out like bandits under the current system.

    1. frank ly

      Re: Tax law is too complex

      "... paid $40 million in taxes on $2,507 million income ..."

      Company taxes are paid on profits (and a few other things), not income, quite rightly. Large and 'skillful' companies with trans-national operations have developed methods to disguise their true costs and hence their true profits; this is the problem.

      1. Jon Press

        Re: Tax law is too complex

        "taxes are paid on profits, not income, quite rightly".

        No, not rightly, just traditionally. Given the complexity of trans-national tax arrangements, there is no such thing as "true profits", profit is essentially the inflexion point on the graph at which spending on accountants outstrips the reduction in tax.

        Peronsal income tax used to have a "profit" element by providing a range of allowances for expenses such as mortgages and dependent relatives but, at least in the UK, these have pretty well all gone, largely because of the opportunities they provided to avoid tax. The same is going to have to be true of corporate taxation - tax income received within the country and leave it to the managers to decide how best to ensure the remainder leaves them with a return. This is the only way corporations cannot pit nations against each other in supplication for their favours.

        1. frank ly

          Re: Tax law is too complex

          " income received within the country and leave it to the managers to decide how best to ensure the remainder leaves them with a return."

          Consider the gold smelting company that sells £1,000,000 of refined gold p.a after spending £500,000 on buying gold scrap (numbers for illustration only) and then has premises, staff and other operating costs. You think it's sensible to tax the income instead of the profit? I realise that's an extreme example but it illustrates why companies, that have structural and necessary costs, should be taxed on profits.

        2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          @Jon Press

          "profit is essentially the inflexion point on the graph at which spending on accountants outstrips the reduction in tax."

          Priceless! Thanks.

        3. Tom 13

          Re: there is no such thing as "true profits"

          Spoken a like a true consfiscationist. There most certainly is a true profit, and the CEO & CFO had damn well know where it is. Because if they don't they'll go bankrupt. Same thing OUGHT to apply to the people levying in the taxes, for much the same reasons. If the accountants can't figure it out, they should lose their licenses.

  6. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Politicians - always so sure of themselves

    "US multinational corporations benefit from the security and stability of the US economy"

    Oh my gawd. Stability? Security?? Of the US economy??? Not in this dimension, no sir. Most of the taxes seem to go into colonalist adventures and random "industrial policies", i.e. buying stuff you don't need at elevated prices (which includes quite a lot of the wages of public employees). Even then, it's never enough. Print some money, create gigantic debt holes that are visible even once all the precautions have been taken to cover them up etc. Nice job.

    "You need an educated workforce, with enough wages to buy toys like the iPhone"

    Rank rhetoric. Wages are "high enough to buy toys like the iPhone" not because "the workforce is educated" (which it often isn't btw.) but because an enormous amount of time and money has been put into developing the overall production chain which eats raw materials on one end and spits out iPhones on the other, making iPhones actually "cheap to produce" (I will abstract away from income differences along that chain, due to *cough* exploitative practices *cough*). That production chain as been built with the money and is being developed with the money THAT HAS NOT BEEN TAXED AWAY. Surprise!

  7. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Love your accountant

    It makes perfect sense for these companies to shift their money in such a way as to avoid paying taxes. The US government is supposed to work on plugging up the loopholes as they are exposed. Instead, large corporations are buying politicians in dozen cartons and using their influence to stop these loopholes and get laws passed that benefit their operations.

    My biggest peeve is I do not have the amount of money that makes paying an account more profitable than paying the tax! Working on it.

  8. Big-nosed Pengie

    The sub head nails it

    Civilisation costs money. Get over it.

  9. Neoc

    Individuals and taxes

    I don't know how it works for the rest of the world, but at least here in OZ the ATO (Australian Taxation Office) actively encourages individuals to find all tax cuts/rebates that apply. Hell, I use the ATO's electronic tax lodgement system (eTax) and it's designed so you can see every possible deductions you might possibly be able to claim and a few I think only apply to 3 or 4 people in all of Australia.

    Of course, it's then up to you to be able to prove you're entitled to said deductions should the taxman come a-knockin'. ^_^

  10. Andrew Smith 1

    Tax shouldn't be taxing

    Would it be too difficult to just simplify the system?

    How hard could it be to have a graph which shows that if you earn this much money you pay this much tax? If company A earns this much cash they pay this much tax? No ifs or buts, cut all these exemptions and just simplify it!

    And if you are resident in the country, or have an office in that country you pay tax on the income in that country! MSFT and HP must make tons of cash in the American market, they should be taxed on the US income in the US! Pay Irish tax on income in Ireland, etc etc. All this dodgy Irish arm of MSFT which bought the rights and makes tons of cash in the US is crap, utter crap. If the money was earned in the US it should be taxed in the US.

    And if we stop eating the bullshit these companies and certain politicians spout about lowering the tax rate or these companies will just avoid it is crap too! Write the law, if you earn it in the US you pay it in the US!! Then tax all the companies!

    1. Kevin Johnston

      Re: Tax shouldn't be taxing

      Ah, you have to be a little cautious here. Unless all 190-odd countries in the world do the same scale of simplification then you just encourage big companies to move lock stock and barrels of cash to a more 'lenient' tax regime. This is the root of the problem as no matter how carefully you work out your tax system, it all can count for nothing when a country (such as Ireland) decides to run especially low taxation options to encourage companies to set up an office and route money through it.

      Each country has to set taxation levels to generate the income it needs to provide services but cannot react fast enough to changes from other countries without being heavy-handed on the people/companies who were not thinking of leaving but now may consider it.

    2. JimC

      Re: Tax shouldn't be taxing

      >how hard could it be

      Sadly the answer seems to be "very hard". I'm firmly on the side of the "if the money is spent in Country X is should be taxed in Country X" side of the fence, but the trouble is you have to define what earned and spent actually is, and multinationals are adept at playing these games of shuffling stuff between subsidiaries, so that in the UK you buy your MS licenses from MS Ireland not MS UK.

      One answer feels like banning cross border transactions, so you have to service your UK customers from the UK and so on, but that soon leads to smuggling and all sorts of other problems and its kinda hard on smallish companies who don't have offices in every country... Wish there were easy answers.

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Tax shouldn't be taxing

      That's exactly what happens now - all the money Microsoft make in the USA they pay tax on in the USA.

      But Microsoft USA make almost no money because they have to pay Microsoft Grand-Cayman for the rights to the Microsoft name and pay Microsoft Lichtenstein for the license to the software.

  11. KX1B

    Fool Me Once Shame on You...

    The audacity of HP to ask for another tax holiday when the last time they repatriated foreign funds due to a tax holiday it wasn't spent on adding jobs or capital investments in America. The people in Congress who promised it would add 1 million jobs to the economy should be put on TV and explain to the public why this didn't happen. Maybe the next time Congress decides to vote for a Tax Holiday, they'll have some strings attached. As something like this. 'The $$ goes into a separate fund that will be used to hire workers, build factories on American shores' If those factories stay open for 5 years, there is no tax owed. If the money is not used for those purposes, or if the factories and/or jobs disappear within 5 years, the money will be taxed on a sliding scale based on how long the investment was put to good use. Paying shareholders and executives with the $$ that was brought here under false pretenses is criminal.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fool Me Once Shame on You...

      Agree, if these one time tax amnesties happen more than one time, they just become the new tax rate.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Fool Me Once Shame on You...

      i think there should be annual tax holidays, just for a week or so around the middle of April

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SOS, DD

    Intel has been convicted multiple times of U.S. tax evasion by lying about where they earned income. I expect with some more bribe money sent to DC that nothing good will happen to resolve the gross injustice of corproate America not paying it's fair share.

    It's important that CEOs be properly compensated like Tom Cook receiving $700 Million in annual compensation for using Chinese slave labor to produce apple products. The CEOs at Microsucks, Acer, HP, Foxconn and many more evil corporations need their mega-million annual salaries and to escape paying U.S. taxes because of their magnanimous contributions to society... or NOT!

  13. Jorba

    Perfect Example

    This comment section plus the authors attitude is a perfect example of why we find ourselves in such a dire situation globally in the first place. The idea that governments do, and should, provide everything is hopelessly flawed.

    Communications infrastructure is not supplied by government but by a plethora of private companies working both in cooperation and competition. Education is supplied mostly by government only because they've forced themselves in their and effectively removed most of the competition. And then consider the fact that the population is NOT generally well educated. Pretty much everything government does, it does badly. The NHS or the BBC provide further glaring examples.

    Government finances are in such an abysmal state not because people haven't paid more tax. The strategies outlined in the article are nothing new and the tax take has not fallen prodigiously in recent years. Rather, it's because the government themselves have been pissing money away at an inconceivable rate. If you or I behaved the way they do - with a complete disregard for reality - we'd be broke within a year. Considering the way it's often done, probably in gaol too.

    Government, in the form of taxes, regulation and outright stupidity, are not the enablers of a successful economy, they are a drag on it. The most successful economies are the ones where government limits it's involvement and lets people get on with it. Singapore, mentioned in the article, is a perfect example. The tax rates are lower and the services - mostly privately provided - are cheaper and FAR superior to anything government provided elsewhere in the world.

    The only ethical obligation one has regarding tax is to minimise the amount of it you pay. Quite apart from the personal incentive, it limits how much money they have to play with and therefore the damage they can do.

    And in answer to the question about service companies - having your money paid offshore and borrowing it back falls, unfortunately, under the heading of "its not illegal until you get caught". In order to do the things that MS etc are doing you need an international revenue base and don't bring it all back onshore. If you're on a paycheck or a small operator, your only option is to move yourself to a lower tax regime (i.e. country). I've done it. It's very liberating.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Perfect Example

      thankfully, some sense!

      People (and probably companies too) would be (slightly) more inclined to put up with higher taxes if they knew they wouldn't get pissed away.

    2. Pseu Donyme

      Re: Perfect Example

      A counterexample: the private healthcare system in the US vs. the public ones in the rest of the 'advanced' countries: in the US this takes ~18 % of GDP, OECD average is ~10 %, yet ~50 million people in the US are not covered.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: A counterexample:

        bad counterexample. The US healthcare system isn't private and hasn't been since about 1942 when FDR turned it into a fascist collective. In a private healthcare system, consumers would buy their own health insurance according to their own perceived needs and pay for it from their own money. Instead, almost everyone gets it through their employer. Furthermore, the government requires hospitals to treat ANYONE who comes in with an emergency, so their costs get socialized to everyone, just not explicitly. The end result is nobody knows the real cost of anything (including the hospitals and doctors who cost shift from those who aren't paying to those who are) and nobody cares because "somebody else" is paying the bill.

  14. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Well don't just sit there!

    If the tricks being used are all legal, I'd have thought that the US Congress (who made the laws in question) were just about the only people in the US who had no right to complain about it.

    I feel much the same way when I hear "Call me Dave" wringing his hands over tax avoidance in the UK. FFS, Dave! If you can't be arsed to use the power we've given you, step aside for someone who can.

  15. mhenriday
    Big Brother

    What I wonder is -

    is if Willard regards these firms - and all their tax-dodging counterparts - as being among the 47 % of the US people who are always looking for a handout from the government (e g, «one-off» tax holidays which become «two-off» tax holidays, special prices for land, energy, water, etc, etc) about whom he feels he needn't worry. (Please don't bother lecturing me on the distinction between real people and juridical people (Willard is very much concerned with the latter - in particular those he could plunder and then stick the government with the bill) ; I am familiar with both Citizens United and the (in)famous obiter dictum in Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad....)


  16. Pseu Donyme

    A revenue-friendly alternative

    ... to a tax holiday would be raising the tax rate and announcing this well ahead of the change taking effect :).

  17. Schultz

    Companies are people, my friend.

    And rich companies, just like rich people, are welcome to pay "more than 13%" of taxes every year. Or less.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Microsoft Tax Avoidance ©

    "The $2.43 billion US tax saving was achieved mostly through the avoidance of tax on royalty payments between Microsoft Ireland Operations Ltd (MIOL), and a subsidiary, Microsoft Ireland Research (MIR), which is in turn a subsidiary of a company called Round Island One.

    The three companies have their registered addresses at 70 Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin, the offices of solicitors Matheson Ormsby Prentice. Round Island One is a Bermuda company, despite having its registered office here. It was incorporated in 2001". link

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like