Tax receipts hit €59.3bn in 2019, a record figure. This is €1.4bn in excess of the Department’s original forecast, with substantial corporation tax receipts driving the surplus.
All the key tax heads finished the year well ahead of 2018 comparables.
With the exception of stamp duty and VAT, the key tax heads also performed better than forecast. The VAT figures need to be viewed in the context of the ongoing Brexit uncertainty that prevailed in 2019. In the circumstances, VAT receipts that were 6.2% ahead of last year and only marginally behind forecast represent a very solid result.
Income tax receipts for 2019 were robust, with a buoyant labour market likely to see the figures remain strong in 2020. This also augurs well for VAT receipts in 2020, although Brexit developments later this month may impact on consumer confidence and spending.
Undoubtedly, the big talking point of the 2019 tax figures is a corporation tax surplus of €1.4bn over forecast. Corporate tax receipts have more than doubled in five years, with a focus now on the sustainability of these returns, particularly given that a relatively small number of large multinational companies make up a significant chunk of the corporate tax take.
The high receipts in 2019 are all the more remarkable in the context of ongoing global trade wars and economic uncertainty. In this context, there should be optimism that 2020 corporate tax receipts will at least hit 2019 levels.
Beyond 2020, the position is less certain. While global tax developments to date have been positive for Ireland, the latest proposals represent more of a threat.
A move to allocate a portion of a group’s profits to where customers reside would remove a portion of profits from the Irish tax net. Further proposals to introduce a global minimum effective rate of tax could also dilute the benefits of Ireland’s low corporate tax regime.
There is still considerable uncertainty as to how these proposed future global tax regime changes will play out and the consequent impact on Ireland’s corporate tax base. In our view, while in the medium term there may be a fall in corporate tax receipts, longer term there are other factors that should see corporate tax receipts strengthen. Of particular note is that in the long term, recent migrations of valuable intellectual property to Ireland should boost our corporate tax receipts and potentially mitigate drops in revenues from the recent proposed changes.
However, with politics and global trade conditions both key factors, it is very difficult to predict future corporate tax receipts. Thus while, on balance, we believe that in the long term the current level of corporate tax receipts can be maintained, this comes with a heavy caveat.
Clearly any future corporate tax receipts volatility will put pressure on other tax heads to balance the books. With personal tax and VAT rates already high, there is no obvious candidate for future rate increases, other than perhaps property taxes. However this is likely to be seen as politically unpalatable.
Overall, 2019 was another strong year on the Exchequer returns front, with tax receipts 6.8% ahead of 2018. The 2019 figures were also ahead of forecast by 2.4%. Of note is that the surplus over forecast was primarily driven by very strong corporate tax receipts. It is unlikely that corporate tax receipts will outperform to such an extent in 2020, which may put pressure on other tax heads to make up any deficits.