Apple pays non-US income taxes of just 2 per cent

The company is likely awaiting a "repatriation tax holiday".

Apple's annual tax return (pdf), filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, reveals that it paid just 2 per cent tax on "foreign" (non-US) earnings in 2012.

The news, highlighted by the Sunday Times' Simon Duke, can be found on page 61 of the document, which reveals that the company owed $1,203m taxes on foreign pretax earnings of $36.8bn, and deferred payment on $490m in order to realise a tax bill of $713m this year. Even if the deferred taxes were paid in full, the company would still be paying an effective rate of just over 3 per cent.

International sales accounted for 61 per cent of Apple's business in the last year, and so many are likely to cry foul at the low proportion of taxes which it pays in the areas in which it carries out the majority of its business.

Apple, like many multinational corporations, employs many strategies to legally lower its tax bill. The company bases its entire Europe, Middle East and Africa division in Cork, Ireland, a low-tax jurisdiction, and also operates its worldwide sales and distribution network from there. In addition, the company is famous for the large amount of non-repatriated cash it sits on.

This is money which it has earned on foreign sales, and wishes to bring back to the US, but has not yet done so. Like many companies, Apple is hoping for a "repatriation tax holiday", where it can move that income back to the US without having to pay income tax on it. The most recent holiday was in 2004, and saw companies that brought back profits taxed at 5 per cent, instead of 35 per cent. Until Apple decides what to do with those cash holdings, the company is likely to continue deferring tax owed on them.

In addition, the company doesn't have to pay any tax on foreign earnings which are reinvested overseas – it has spent over $5bn this way in the 2012 tax year.

While the 2 per cent paid on international profits may harm Apple's reputation outside the US, the company still pays an effective tax rate of over 25 per cent overall, and provides a breakdown of the deductions that reduce this from the 35 per cent baseline corporation tax rate of the US.

Updated with credit to Sunday Times.

Apple's Headquarters in Cupertino, California. Photograph: Joe Ravi, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The trouble with a second Brexit referendum

A new vote risks coming too soon for Remainers. But there is an alternative. 

In any given week, a senior political figure will call for a second Brexit referendum (the most recent being David Miliband). It's not hard to see why. EU withdrawal risks proving an act of political and economic self-harm and Leave's victory was narrow (52-48). Had Remain won by a similar margin, the Brexiteers would have immediately demanded a re-run. 

But the obstacles to another vote are significant. Though only 52 per cent backed Brexit, a far larger number (c. 65 per cent) believe the result should be respected. No major party currently supports a second referendum and time is short.

Even if Remainers succeed in securing a vote, it risks being lost. As Theresa May learned to her cost, electorates have a habit of punishing those who force them to polls. "It would simply be too risky," a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Were a second referendum lost, any hope of blocking Brexit, or even softening it, would be ended. 

The vote, as some Remainers note, would also come at the wrong moment. By 2018/19, the UK will, at best, have finalised its divorce terms. A new trade agreement with the EU will take far longer to conclude. Thus, the Brexiteers would be free to paint a false picture of the UK's future relationship. "It would be another half-baked, ill-informed campaign," a Labour MP told me. 

For this reason, as I write in my column this week, an increasing number of Remainers are attracted to an alternative strategy. After a lengthy transition, they argue, voters should be offered a choice between a new EU trade deal and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be a distant memory. The proviso, they add, is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms (rather than ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). 

Rather than publicly proposing this plan, MPs are wisely keeping their counsel. As they know, those who hope to overturn the Brexit result must first be seen to respect it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.