AstraZeneca

John Gapper

The global system for taxing multinational companies is broken, but no country wants to alter it too radically for fear of making it worse. That was my impression after hearing international tax experts gathered in Oxford this week to discuss reform.

Reform of corporate taxation has been thrust onto the political agenda in Europe and by controversy over the tax policies of companies such as Google and Starbucks. The ease with which they can shift intellectual property and royalty payments to low tax regimes has outraged politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

The attempt by Pfizer to turn itself into a UK company for tax purposes by acquiring AstraZeneca has also drawn attention to the use of “tax inversion” by US companies. They want to use the cash piles held overseas to make acquisitions that allow them to change corporate nationality and reduce their taxes.

But while most countries agree that the system of global taxation in place since the 1920s is flawed, there was no consensus at the conference held by the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation on how to fix it. Instead, most prefer to play defence. 

For students of perverse incentives created by tax, it is a bonanza week. Apple has raised $12bn in bonds to buy back shares, despite having $130bn sitting in cash overseas, and Pfizer wants to turn itself into a UK-domiciled company by acquiring AstraZeneca for £60bn.

John Gapper

Pfizer has finally made a public announcement of its interest in AstraZeneca. One of the main points of the deal, it turns out, is tax inversion – turning Pfizer into a UK-domiciled company.

Pfizer is making tax inversion a point of the proposed deal Photo: Bloomberg

 

What is a doctor’s job? Is it: a) to diagnose illness; b) to treat patients; or c) to persuade other doctors to prescribe a brand-name pill? To those answering c), here is an additional question: do you work for a pharmaceuticals company?

Andrew Hill

Spare me the “shareholder spring” allusions. Not only does the parallel devalue the genuine sacrifice of those who took part in the popular revolts of the “Arab spring”, it misrepresents the nature of the shareholder rebellions that have now defenestrated three UK chief executives, including, today, Andrew Moss of Aviva.

Andrew Moss - no longer lord of all he surveys

Andrew Moss – no longer lord of all he surveys

The natural assumption is that high pay is the root cause of investors’ disgruntlement, whereas tone-deafness on remuneration was merely a symptom of a wider concern about Trinity Mirror, AstraZeneca and now Aviva. What really did for Mr Moss (apart from his habit of letting himself be photographed looking out over the City, like a jut-jawed lord of all he surveyed) was his performance not his pay.