Leprechaun economics

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Nobel Prize-winning US economist Paul Krugman whose tweet on the 12 July 2016 christened the Irish Leprechaun Economics affair
Apple's Q1 2015 Irish "quasi-inversion" of its $300bn international IP is the largest recorded individual BEPS action in history, and almost double the 2016 blocked $160bn Pfizer-Allergan Irish inversion.
Brad Setser & Cole Frank
(Council on Foreign Relations)[1]

Leprechaun economics was a term coined by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman in a tweet on 12 July 2016 in response to the publication by the Irish Central Statistics Office ("CSO") that Irish GDP had grown by 26.3%, and Irish GNP had grown by 18.7%, in the 2015 Irish national accounts.[2]

Leprechaun economics: Ireland reports 26 percent growth! But it doesn't make sense. Why are these in GDP?

— Paul Krugman twitter page, 12 July 2016[3]

While the event which caused the artificial GDP growth occurred in Q1 2015, the Irish CSO delayed the Irish 2015 GDP update to protect the identity of the source. The Irish CSO further explicitly limited the release of its regular economic data,[4] so that it was not until early 2018, three years after the event, that economists could definitively conclude that the event was both the largest individual BEPS action, and the largest quasi-tax inversion of a U.S. corporation, in economic history.[1][5]

"Leprechaun economics" marked Ireland's arrival as the major corporate tax haven, estimated as the world's largest,[6][7] and how potent Ireland's IP-based BEPS tools had become, despite the 2015 closure of the double Irish IP-based BEPS tool. Apple used these tools to execute a $300 billion quasi-corporate inversion (i.e. effectively its non-U.S. business), while Pfizer-Allergan's smaller $160 billion Irish corporate inversion was blocked.[1][8] The event had follow-on consequences:

  1. In September 2016, Ireland's EU GDP levy increased by €380m,[9][10] despite making Apple's capital allowances BEPS tool tax-free in the 2015 Budget.[11]
  2. In September 2016, Ireland was "blacklisted" by G20 economy, Brazil, as a corporate tax haven, and the bilateral Brazilian-Irish tax treaty suspended.[12][13]
  3. In February 2017, the CBI introduced GNI* to remove IP-based BEPS tool distortions; GNI* is 30% below GDP,[14][15] but still above true GNI.[16][17][18]
  4. In November 2017, on realising that Apple's had restructured into a new Irish BEPS tool in Q1 2015,[5] the EU started new enquiries into Apple in Ireland.[19][20]
  5. By December 2017, the U.S. and EU Commission departed from the OECD BEPS Project to introduce new anti-“IP-based BEPS tool”, tax regimes.[21][22][23]
  6. By April 2018, economists noted EU-28 aggregate data was being distorted by Ireland, and was being affected by the iPhone sales cycle.[8][24][25]
Apple Inc Restructuring of their Irish subsidiaries in January 2015, created the Leprechaun Economics GDP/GNP growth rates, showing how distorted Ireland's national accounts had become from US tax planning.

The problem of Irish economic statistics post "leprechaun economics", and "modified GNI" (or GNI*), is captured on page 34 of the OECD 2018 Ireland survey:[26]

  1. On a Gross Public Debt-to-GDP basis, Ireland's 2015 figure at 78.8% is not of concern;
  2. On a Gross Public Debt-to-GNI* basis, Ireland's 2015 figure at 116.5% is more serious, but not alarming;
  3. On a Gross Public Debt Per Capita basis, Ireland's 2015 figure at $62,686 per capita, exceeds all OECD countries, except Japan.[27]

In June 2018, Microsoft is preparing a similar BEPS transaction to Apple,[28] now labelled the "the Green Jersey" by the The EU Parliament's GUE-NGL.[29][30] The U.S. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, by accepting Irish capital allowances in its GILTI calculation, has made the the Green Jersey even more attractive to U.S. corporates.

Use of term

The term received widespread coverage in the Irish and international media.[31][32][33][34][35][34][36][37]

"Leprechaun Economics" has been used many times since (and by Krugman himself), to describe distorted/unsound economic data:

Obfuscation of source

Finance Minister Michael Noonan attributed the growth rates to multinationals restructuring pre the closure of the Double Irish tax plan

It didn't help that the Central Statistics Office of Ireland delayed and limited the release of other regular national accounts data, to maintain the confidentiality of the entity that had driven the "leprechaun economics" growth rate. It would not be until nearly three years after the Q1 2015 quasi-tax inversion, the largest in history, that enough CSO data would be released to definitively prove the source. (see later).[4] While it would be shown that the growth was artificial and tax-driven, the CSO described the recording of the 26.3% rise in Irish GDP as "meeting the challenges of a modern globalised economy".[42] In this regard, the Irish CSO were described as "putting on the green jersey" to aid the obfuscation of Apple's giant Irish BEPS tax scheme.

It led the ex-Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland to make the following comment:

The statistical distortions created by the impact on the Irish National Accounts of the global assets and activities of a handful of large multinational corporations have now become so large as to make a mockery of conventional uses of Irish GDP.

— Patrick Honohan, ex-Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, 13 July 2016[43]

It was suspected that the driver of "leprechaun economics" was Apple's restructuring of Apple Sales International (ASI) (the focus of the EU Commission's €13bn investigation into alleged illegal Irish State Aid to Apple) onshore to Ireland in January 2015.[44][45] This was disputed by the Central Statistics Office.[46]

The official explanation of the Irish CSO for the "leprechaun economics" economic growth was that it was due to a combination of factors including aircraft purchases (Ireland is a major location of aircraft securitisation SPVs) and the reclassification of corporate balance sheets (i.e. corporate tax inversion).[47]

Finance Minister Michael Noonan clarified 10 days later on RTE News that the driver of the "leprechaun economics" was Ireland's closing of the double Irish tax structure in 2014/15 (agreed under OECD guidelines)[48] which led to some multinationals moving intellectual property assets onshore to Ireland from the Caribbean.[49]

EU GDP levy

While the drivers of Ireland's "leprechaun economics" growth might not have produced tangible additional tax revenues for Ireland, the 26.3% rise in Ireland's GDP directly increased Ireland's annual EU budget levy (which is decided as % of GDP) by an estimated €380m per annum.[9][10]

The Irish Government appealed to the EU to amend the terms of the GDP levy (to a GNI approach) so that it would not incur the full effect of the €380m increase. There were unsubstantiated claims by the Irish Government that the effective amount would be reduced to €280m per annum.[50]

The affair also prompted an audit by Eurostat into Ireland's economic statistics (including questions from the IMF); however no irregularities ensued and it was accepted that the Irish CSO had followed the Eurostat guidelines, as detailed in the Eurostat ESA 2010 Guidelines manual, in preparing the 2015 National Accounts.[51][52]

Proof of Apple

Ireland: Trade Good Discrepancy (1995-2017). Brad Setser & Cole Frank (Council on Foreign Relations)
Ireland: Balance of Payments (2012-17). Brad Setser & Cole Frank (Council on Foreign Relations)

University College Cork economist Seamus Coffey has written in detail on Apple's Irish structure[53] and is often quoted in the International media.[54] He is Chairman of the State's Irish Fiscal Advisory Council[55] and authored the State's 2017 Review of Ireland's Corporation Tax Code.[56][57] Coffey had speculated, like other economists in Ireland,[44] that Apple was the source of "leprechaun economics", when it restructured ASI in January 2015. Apple had been using a hybrid of the double Irish tax scheme, but with one company (ASI) instead of two, which the EU Commission challenged as illegal State aid. However, nobody could confirm Apple was the source in the absence of full 2015 and 2016 Irish National Accounts Statistics (which the CSO had suppressed).

On 24 January 2018, he published a long analysis on his respected economics blog confirming Apple was the source: (quoting from his article):[5]

We know Apple changed its structure from the first of January 2015. This is described in section 2.5.7 on page 42 of the Commission's decision. This would be useful but bar telling us that the new structure came into operation on the first of January 2015 everything else is redacted. Although the details of the new structure were not revealed it was still felt that Ireland was still central to the structure and maybe even more so with the revised structure. Many of the dramatic shifts that occurred in Ireland's national accounts and balance of payments data were attributed to Apple but this was largely supposition – even if it was likely to be true. Now we know it to be true.

— Seamus Coffey, University College Cork, 24 January 2018[5]

Coffey also showed that rather than use a double Irish scheme (still open in January 2015), Apple opted for the Irish capital allowances for intangibles scheme.[5]

In 2018, the IMF began to correlate Ireland's economic growth with the Apple iPhone sales cycle.[24][25]

International economists confirmed Seamus Coffey's analysis (including Apple's use of an Irish capital allowances for intangible assets scheme), and estimated that Apple "onshored" up to $300bn of intellectual property (or IP), in 2015 (vs. an Irish economy whose 2016 GNI* was only circa €190bn):[1][58] It would become known as the largest recorded individual base erosion and profit shifting (or BEPS) action in economic history (as well as the largest quasi-tax inversion).[58][1]

At this point, multinational profit shifting doesn't just distort Ireland’s balance of payments; it constitutes Ireland’s balance of payments.

— Brad Setser and Cole Frank, Council on Foreign Relations, "Tax Avoidance and the Irish Balance of Payments", 25 April 2018[1]

Apple's wider post Q1 2015 BEPS tax structure in Ireland has been called "the Green Jersey" by the EU Parliament's GUE-NGL body and analysed in detail.[29][30] In June 2018, Ireland's The Sunday Business Post revealed that Microsoft is preparing to execute a similar BEPS transaction.[28] Because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 ("TCJA") accepts foreign capital allowances - both tangible and intangible - in it's GILTI calculation, it has ironically made the "Green Jersey" a more powerful BEPS tool to U.S. corporations, who can now achieve effective U.S. tax rates of 0-3% by using it with TCJA participation relief.

Further Apple controversy

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe who reversed the benefits Michael Noonan gave Apple's 2015 scheme, but for future schemes only, in 2017

It is prohibited under Ireland's tax code (Section 291A(c) of the Irish Taxes and Consolation Act 1997) to use the Irish capital allowances for intangible assets scheme for reasons that are not "commercial bona fide reasons" and in schemes where the main purpose is "... the avoidance of, or reduction in, liability to tax".[59][60][61]

The 2017 Paradise Papers leaks revealed that Apple and its lawyers, offshore magic circle firm Appleby, were looking for a replacement for the ASI double Irish BEPS tool in 2014. They considered a number of traditional tax havens (especially Jersey), and corporate tax havens (like Ireland). Some of the disclosed documents leave little doubt as to the key drivers of Apple's decision making in finding a new location for their IP.[62][63][64]

If Irish Revenue waived its anti-avoidance measures in Section 291A(c) to Apple's benefit, it could result in a further EU Commission State Aid investigation.

Mr Coffey estimates that since the 2015 restructuring, Apple has avoided Irish corporate taxes totalling circa at €2.5-3bn per annum (at the 12.5% rate).[5][65]

The potential second EU Apple State aid fine for the 2015-2018 (inclusive) period, could therefore reach over €10bn, excluding any interest penalties.[19][66]

The financial media noted that the then Finance Minister Michael Noonan, had increased the tax relief threshold for the Irish capital allowances for intangible assets scheme from 80% to 100% in the 2015 budget (i.e. reduce the effective Irish corporate tax rate from 2-3% to 0%). This was changed back in the subsequent 2017 budget by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, however firms which had started their Irish capital allowances schemes in 2015 (like Apple), were allowed to stay at the 100% relief level for the duration of their scheme,[67][11] which can, under certain conditions, be extended indefinitely.[61]

The EU Commission has now asked for details on Apple's Irish structure post their January 2015 ruling.[20]

Estimated Apple cost

To the Irish media, it looked as if Apple would pay no Irish taxes on its Irish capital allowances for intangibles tax scheme; however, the Irish State would pay an extra €380m in its annual EU GDP levy.[9][10]

Irish media speculated that Finance Minister Michael Noonan justified this cost on the basis that the increase in Irish GDP/GNP (even if completely "artificial") would:[68][69]

  • reduce Irish borrowing costs (by reducing Irish Debt-to-GDP), and also
  • help to revive the Celtic Tiger animal spirits in the Irish consumer.

However, in 2015, when Apple created the leprechaun economics moment, Irish CT jumped materially to €6.87bn (a €2.26bn, or 49% increase, in one year).[70] It was noted that Finance Minister Michael Noonan made Apple's 2015 capital allowances for intangible assets scheme effectively tax-free by increasing the cap in the 2015 Irish Budget to 100% (reversed back in 2017 but only for new schemes).[11] It was also noted that Apple's main Irish subsidiary, ASI, was recording gross profits of €25bn in 2014,[5] while the total rise in 2015 intangible assets claimed under Irish capital allowances was €26.220bn.[70]

€26bn of increased capital allowances for intangible assets, means avoiding €3.25bn in Irish CT per annum (at 12.5% rate).

Just as with the initial leprechaun economics moment in 2015, commentators believe that a material amount of this CT jump (if not almost all of the jump) is due to Apple, and therefore more than ASI was re-structured into Ireland, however, we may never know the exact answer.[1][58] In August 2016, Tim Cook stated that Apple was now "the largest tax payer in Ireland".[71]

The "clawback" on Apple's new capital allowances for intangible assets scheme expires in January 2020 (5-year term[72][73]). At the time of the CT jump disclosure, the Irish Government commissioned a major study into Irish CT sustainability which confirmed visibility to 2020 but not beyond.[57][74][75]

IDA Ireland quote that average multinational wages in Ireland are €85k (€17.9bn wage roll on 210,443 staff).[76] With Apple employing 6,000 staff in Ireland,[77] this would imply a total wage cost of circa €600m. Add this to circa €2bn in CT taxes but subtract the €380m in EU GDP levies, and Apple is contributing over €2.2bn annually to the Irish exchequer.

This figure compares with the latest estimate of Apple's EU Commission fine (owed to Ireland) of €13.85bn,[5] and penalties of another circa €6bn,[53][5] giving a total of almost €20bn.

Introduction of GNI*

"EU 2011 Ratio of GNI to GDP" (Eurostat National Accounts, 2011)
Dominance of U.S. Multinationals: Irish corporate gross operating surplus by the controlling country of the company (note: a material part of the Irish figure is for U.S. tax inversions who are really also U.S.-controlled companies). Eurostat (2015)

From the mid-2000s, US multinationals have materially increased their use of the Irish double Irish tax avoidance scheme (see table for Apple's ASI).[62]

By 2011, Ireland's ratio of GNI to GDP, had fallen to 80% (only Luxembourg was lower at 73%). The EU27 average is closer to 100% (see GNI table).[78][18]

An EU Commission report shows that 23% of Ireland's 2010-2014 GDP is represented by untaxed multinational royalty payments (i.e. GNI at 77% of GDP).[79]

Irish financial commentators note how difficult it is to draw comparisons with other economies.[18] The classic example is the comparison of Ireland's indebtedness (Public and Private) when expressed "per capita" versus when expressed "as % of GDP". On a 2017 "per capita" basis, Ireland is one of the most leveraged OECD countries (both on a Public Sector and on a Private Sector Debt basis). On a 2017 "% of GDP" basis, however, Ireland is deleveraging rapidly.[80][81][82][83]

The capital allowances for intangibles scheme is even more distorting on Irish GNI/GNP/GDP as it behaves like a quasi-corporate tax inversion, as seen with Apple.[1]

International commentators point out that Ireland's "leprechaun economics" artificial data was now materially distorting aggregate EU-28 economic data.[8] Extreme distortions of national economic data is a well known feature of corporate tax havens.[84][85] The top 15 GDP-per-capita countries are heavily represented by traditional and corporate tax havens (see GDP-per-capita and tax havens). The artificial nature of the distortion makes the haven prone to more severe credit cycles as international capital markets mis-price the cost of credit to the tax haven in benign times, only to reverse it sharply in times of global stress (see tax haven cycles).

As a direct result of the leprechaun economics affair, the Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland convened a special steering group to create statistics that would represent the real position of the Irish economy. The result was the creation of a new metric, modified Gross National Income (or GNI* for short).[86][87]

Post leprechaun economics, 2016 Irish GNI* (€190bn) is 30% below 2016 Irish GDP (€275bn) and Irish Debt/GNI* goes to 106% (Irish Debt/GDP was 73%).[14][15]

Given that before "leprechaun economics" entered into vogue, Irish GNI (which is affected by the capital allowances scheme[16]), was over 20% below Irish GDP, commentators expected that post "leprechaun economics", Irish GNI* would be circa 40% below Irish GDP.[16][17][18]

Many economic commentators doubt the leprechaun economics effect (esp. gap between GNI* and "true" GNI) can be removed from Irish data.[16][88][89][90][91]

The problem of Ireland's economic statistics post leprechaun economics and modified GNI, is captured on page 34 of the OECD 2018 Ireland survey:[26]

  1. On a Gross Public Debt-to-GDP basis, Ireland's 2015 figure at 78.8% is not of concern;
  2. On a Gross Public Debt-to-GNI* basis, Ireland's 2015 figure at 116.5% is more serious, but not alarming;
  3. On a Gross Public Debt Per Capita basis, Ireland's 2015 figure at over $62,686 per capita, exceeds every other OECD country, except Japan.[27]

See also


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External links

  • Irish Central Statistics Office
  • Irish Fiscal Advisory Council
  • Seamus Coffey University College Cork
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