Apple’s massive cash repatriation a test for trickle-down economics

PAUL MILLER AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

A file picture dated 22 July 2015 of customers being silhouetted inside of an Apple store in Sydney, Australia.

Apple’s massive cash repatriation a test for trickle-down economics


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Apple on Wednesday delivered on its promise to repatriate €205bn ($249 billion) to the United States, paying a 15.5 per cent repatriation tax amounting to €31bn ($38 billion).

The previous official corporate tax rate was 21.5 per cent.

Although the new tax law “requires” companies to repatriate their assets, Apple’s repatriation was announced almost a year ago. Apple CEO Tim Cook has repeatedly demanded a more “fair tax” for nearly two years, which would allow for the repatriation of the company’s assets.

The political question now is how much will the US economy benefit from the repatriation programme, which is founded on the assumption that wealth creation leads to investment and jobs, or trickle-down economics. In Apple’s case, questions remains whether the company’s after-tax cash pile of $207bn will be reinvested into the US economy, as Trump claims.

Apple has only committed to an investment programme of $30bn over the next five years, nowhere near the amount of cash being repatriated. Up to $90bn of this money could go to repay its mounting corporate debt that accumulated in a low-interest rate environment to pay for corporate buy-backs and benefit shareholders, according to Moody’s.

Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, and Apple have accumulated debt to the tune of $250bn, finding interest payments more advantageous to taxes. Until the introduction of the Trump tax bill, US multinationals took advantage of a tax loophole stipulating that liquid assets were taxed only when repatriated. That clause incentivised multinationals to maintain large sums of money outside the US.

Precedent suggests that Apple’s remaining surplus is unlikely to create new jobs.

In 2004, former US President George W. Bush allowed companies to repatriate cash for a 5.5 per cent tax, much lower than the current Trump tax holiday. According to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Procedures, the Bush tax holiday yielded cash repatriation to the tune of $315bn, but most of the companies proceeded with a series of firings rather than hirings.

The Ford motor company repatriated around $850 million and laid off about 10,000 US-based workers in 2005, while pharmaceutical firm Merck & Co repatriated $15.9bn and announced layoffs of 7,000 workers in 2005.

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