France Says Amazon Owes $252M in Taxes? Good Luck!

by Dan Burrows | November 14, 2012 6:30 am (NASDAQ:AMZN[1]), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG[2]) and Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX[3]) are just three prominent U.S. companies on the hot seat for allegedly owing the U.K. and France hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.

Hey, Europe: Good luck with that. It’s hard enough getting U.S. companies to pay taxes here at home.

And what implications does this saber-rattling have for these companies share prices?


It never has been a problem before, anyway.

General Electric (NYSE:GE[4]) famously paid no U.S. taxes[5] back in 2010, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Indeed, the Dow component claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL[6]), meanwhile, paid taxes of just 1.9%[7] on all of its earnings generated from outside the U.S. last year, according to the Associated Press.

And shareholders like it that way. Every dollar not paid in taxes is one more dollar flowing down to the bottom line.

But even if these latest European tax claims have any merit, it’s hard to see how they would hurt the companies’ share prices. It’s not like the firms will go down without a vigorous, drawn-out battle. And the sums involved, at least on the face of it, appear immaterial.

Take Amazon, for example. The French tax authority claims the online retailer owes it $252 million in back taxes, interest and penalties. Amazon has vowed to fight, meaning this is something that will drag on for so long it’s hardly worth worrying about when it comes to any effect on shares now.

But more important is that $252 million, while quite a hefty sum of money, barely puts a scratch on a company that will book $62 billion in revenue this year. Heck, by the end of fiscal 2013, Amazon’s revenue will be close to $80 billion. When it comes to to this stock, the market keys on operating margins and costs and the success of the Kindle Fire — not some politically motivated fight with French tax collectors.

The same goes for the U.K.’s attack on Google, Amazon and Starbucks. British lawmakers are making a stink over the big U.S. firms not paying their fair share of U.K. taxes. Given how good companies are at getting out of paying taxes, those outraged members of Parliament are probably right.

Starbucks, for example, paid no tax in the U.K. in the past three years, Reuters reported. Starbucks, meanwhile, says it paid no taxes because it had no profits. (But considering how insane rents and other costs are in London … well, that’s not so far-fetched.)

Sure, nothing gets populist blood boiling like corporate tax dodgers. And well it should. But if you own stock in any of these companies, don’t be hypocritical about it. If you’re a shareholder, the company’s tax payments come out of your share of profits and dividends.

Regardless, the recession gripping Europe — not taxes — is the real problem for tax collectors and shareholders, alike.

As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

  1. AMZN:
  2. GOOG:
  3. SBUX:
  4. GE:
  5. paid no U.S. taxes:
  6. AAPL:
  7. paid taxes of just 1.9%:

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