18 January 2016
by Neil Chenoweth
Top foreign banks had $9b revenue but no taxable income
Nearly a third of the 26 large foreign banks operating in Australia, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Lloyds and BNP Paribas, had no taxable income in 2014, data released by the Australian Taxation Office shows.
Eight banks with total revenue of $9 billion had no taxable income, while Credit Suisse, which had a taxable income of $397,000 on revenue of $707 million, also paid zero tax.
The Tax Transparency report released by the ATO in December provides the first detailed breakdown of tax payments by the banking sector, which paid a total $11.4 billion in income tax in 2014, on revenue of $218 billion.
The big four Australian banks dominated the rankings, reporting 71 per cent of the revenue and 83 per cent of tax paid, totalling $9.5 billion. The top taxpayer was ComBank, which paid $2.87 billion at a tax rate of 29.1 per cent.
All Australian banking and lending institutions reported taxable profits, but most paid lower tax rates than foreign banks – notably National Australia Bank, which had a 20.1 per cent tax rate, and Macquarie Group, which had a tax rate of 16 per cent.
In a robust defence of its tax practices, Macquarie told the Senate corporate tax inquiry in February 2015 that as an accounting measure its tax rate had been 38 per cent or higher for the past two years.
Cash tax payments
Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan urged the Senate committee to look at cash tax payments rather than accounting provision for tax.
ANZ Bank's $1.96 billion 2014 tax bill was 24.4 per cent of taxable income. The bank did not provide 2014 figures for the Senate committee but said that in 2013 "ANZ made cash payments to the ATO of $1.955 billion (excluding policyholder tax), which equals 29.3 per cent of taxable income".
In total, 26 foreign banks reported $29.3 billion income for 2014 through 35 tax entities, with 15 of these – a total of 43 per cent – not paying tax.
The figures, released under legislation originally introduced by former Labor treasurer Wayne Swan, refer only to tax relating to the 2014 financial year.
A spokesman for BNP Paribas, which made $2.86 billion in revenue across three firms (BNP Pacific Australia, BNP Paribas and BNP Paribas Securities Services Australian Branch) said the bank made a loss in the 2014 financial year because of the deductions of prior year losses stemming from bad debt write-offs.
JPMorgan made $1.6 billion in revenue without profit, believed to be because of carry-forward losses stemming from the global financial crisis. The bank declined to comment.
Goldman Sachs, which made no profit and paid no tax after earning $632 million in the year, also declined to comment.
No profit or tax
The Royal Bank of Scotland, which has drastically reduced its presence in Australia, also didn't make a profit or pay tax, after earning $1.2 billion. Calls to media representatives in Singapore, Hong Kong and Britain went unanswered.
Lloyds Bank, which no longer operates in Australian, made $771 million in revenue without profit.
Rabobank's Co-operatieve Centrale Raiffeisen-Boerenleenbank had $1.4 billion in revenue in the 2014 financial year but made a loss. Rabo Australia had income of $1.24 billion, a taxable profit of $185.3 million and paid $55.5 million in tax.
"Combined as a group, the Rabobank Australian group pays the correct and proper tax amount in Australia and for the 2014 tax year [the year in the figures released by the ATO in December], the effective rate of tax paid was 29.5 per cent of taxable income," Rabobank Australia spokeswoman Denise Shaw said.
"No tax was paid by Co-operatieve Centrale Raiffeisen-Boerenleenbank BA, as it was in a tax-loss position due to various factors.
"Rabobank is extremely committed to being fully compliant in fulfilling its tax obligations, and pays in accordance with the spirit and purpose of our tax laws. We work co-operatively and transparently with the ATO."
While Macquarie's 2014 annual report accounts reported pre-tax profit of $2.1 billion from global income and tax of $827 million for 2014, the ATO data shows Australian taxable income was $797 million, with tax payable of $128 million.
Reflected franking offsets
In a note to its latest accounts, Macquarie said the 16 per cent tax rate reflected franking offsets on Australian dividends, and offsets for foreign tax offsets and research and development.
Macquarie declined to comment on its reported 38 per cent tax rate in its accounting profit. While the bank faces tax rates as high as 40 per cent in the US, this would account for only a fraction of the elevated tax bill, which it also attributed in its 2014 accounts to "tax uncertainties".
The higher tax bill appears to reflect payments for contested assessments by the ATO, with penalty rates and interest relating to earlier years.
This puts Macquarie in the awkward position of defending its tax status to the Senate committee investigating tax avoidance by citing high tax rates, which have been inflated by penalties and interest charges for tax avoidance.
"In accordance with ATO practice, the group has paid a portion of the primary tax and interest covered by these amended assessments and this amount has been included in these financial statements as part of tax receivables, pending resolution," the Macquarie annual report said.
A 2013 Federal Court judgment detailed tax avoidance findings by the ATO relating to Macquarie's offshore banking unit – an Australian-based operation that is taxed at the concessional rate of just 10 per cent.
The ATO found that Macquarie booked expenses relating to the offshore banking unit instead to its general earnings, which are taxed at 30 per cent.
Included interest charges
These included interest charges and the profit share paid to executives, which is believed to be up to 25 per cent of profit.
The Federal Court rejected a claim that the assessments should be overturned because they represented a "U-turn" on the ATO's previous position.
Industry group Australian Financial Markets Association spokeswoman Heather Gascoigne said some foreign-owned banks did not pay tax because they were still writing off losses from the global financial crisis.
These losses had mostly flowed through the system and "future disclosures by the commissioner in respect of later income years will evidence higher tax payments by the foreign bank sector", Ms Gascoigne said.