international bank levy

£2bn, €1bn… and $19bn. Proposed bank levies so far from the UK, France and US. The tide of ever smaller bank levies appears to be turning.

American banks with assets exceeding $50bn and hedge funds with assets over $10bn would be liable to pay the costs associated with financial reform. This from a proposal by Barney Frank late last night during discussions to finalise Wall Street reform. More on

France is aiming for a bank levy of €300m but ” would really like” €1bn, French finance minister Christine Lagarde has announced. Yikes. George Osborne’s feat — taxing the banks £2bn while reassuring them of a level playing field — seems a little less impressive. Might this put Mr Osborne off considering further bank levies?

Lucky for UK banks, then, that the UK levy is so small. And largely offset by corporation tax gains.

Should we feel sorry for the International Monetary Fund? Quite often the answer is yes. The Fund gets passed an international hot potato to write a report about because countries cannot agree; it then writes an equivocal report; and then gets it in the neck when – surprise, surprise – countries do not like the findings.

On the international tax on banks two of these three features apply. The Fund was asked by the Group of 20 to investigate how to make banks contribute to the taxpayer support they enjoyed when there was no consensus at all last September; and countries such as Canada and Japan hate the Fund’s report. But in this instance, the Fund did not write an equivocal report. The leadership of the IMF are fully signed up to the principle of an international tax on banks and have been staunch advocates of taxing banks for some time.

As the report says:

“Expecting taxpayers to support the sector during bad times while allowing owners, managers, and/or creditors of financial institutions to enjoy the full gains of good times misallocates resources and undermines long-term growth. The unfairness is not only objectionable, but may also jeopardize the political ability to provide needed government support to the financial sector in the future.”

The big question is whether a new tax on banks (or two new taxes as the IMF is proposing) will ever happen. Read more