Ireland, Beneficiary of U.S. Corporate “Inversion” Deals, Celebrates Huge Jump in GDP

Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Michael Noonan, Ireland’s finance minister, proudly displays 2016 budget (photo: AFP/Getty Images)


By David Jolly, New York Times


In the United States, politicians, lawmakers and officials have derided “inversion deals,” which allow a U.S. company to move its headquarters overseas to cut its tax bills. In Ireland, they are celebrating them.


The Irish government Tuesday revised the country’s economic growth rate in 2015 to 26.3 percent from a preliminary estimate of 7.8 percent. While Ireland’s economy has been on the upswing since the country repaid its bailout, it was not that the Celtic Tiger suddenly came roaring back in an unexpected way. Rather, it was the magic of those inversion deals and other sleights of finance.


Under a typical inversion deal, a U.S. company takes over a foreign counterpart and, in the process, shifts its headquarters overseas. The takeover targets for such deals are typically based in countries with low corporate taxes — like Ireland, with its 12.5 percent rate.


The combined company’s global profits are then reported in its new home base, regardless of where they are earned. In essence, Ireland’s gross domestic product is artificially inflated.


Inversions have drawn the ire of the Obama administration, since they put a greater burden on U.S. taxpayers.


Last year, the medical device maker Medtronic bought its rival Covidien, reincorporating in Ireland. More recently, Johnson Controls of Milwaukee agreed to join up with Tyco of Cork, Ireland. (Tyco itself has hopped from locale to locale, having been in Bermuda, then Switzerland, before ending up in Ireland.)


Inversions like that were one of the main drivers for the sharp rise in GDP, according to Ireland’s Central Statistics Office. The country’s economy was also bolstered by the import of new aircraft for international leasing activities, another financial gimmick.


Michael Noonan, Ireland’s finance minister, went to great lengths to explain that the recovery is real — and not the result of some financial good fortune. He pointed to other strong data including government revenue, consumer spending and a jobs report as being “consistent with an economy where recovery is firmly established.”


“People’s lives are improving with more at work than at any time since the onset of the downturn,” Noonan said in a statement.


Severe cuts to public services are no longer needed, Noonan noted, referring to Ireland’s painful austerity program.


“Rather we have room to invest in services and infrastructure,” he said.


Still, the statistics office acknowledged the economic fluidity of the inversion deals.


“Employment has not changed greatly as a result” of the sudden expansion, the statement said.


In any case, inversions may not be such big business for Ireland in the future.


In April, U.S. officials announced new rules aimed at reducing the economic incentives for the deals. The rules quickly scrapped a proposed $152 billion merger between the U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Allergan of Ireland.


And Ireland’s economy, while still growing, is hardly the robust economic engine the double-digit rate of last year would imply. The country’s GDP expanded at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in the first quarter of 2016.


To Learn More:

Treasury Dept. Sets New Rules to Stop Companies from Moving Headquarters Abroad to Avoid Paying U.S. Taxes (by Martin Crutsinger, Associated Press)

Another Way for Corporations to Avoid Paying Taxes (by Steven Davidoff Solomon, New York Times)

Pfizer Tax Shelter Move and Price Increases Led by Valeant Compound Image of Drug Industry Greed (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

U.S. Corporations Moving Overseas to Avoid Taxes May Find Ways to Skirt New Fed Rules to Stop Them (by Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Corporate Tax Evasion Strategy Debated in Senate (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Pfizer, Chiquita and Medtronic Try to Merge with Foreign Firms to Avoid U.S. Taxes (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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