Google has become the world’s most valuable listed company after announcing that its global revenues rose 13% to $75bn (£52bn) last year, and the group’s tax rate fell to just 17%.
The group took a record $1.9bn of revenues from its UK customers for the last three months of 2015, up 16% on 2014 – and all routed through its controversial tax structure in Ireland. But for the impact of the pound weakening against the dollar, UK revenues would have been up 20%.
Adding to the £3.7bn in British sales completed earlier in the year, Goolge’s fourth-quarter revenues from the UK, took 2015 turnover from British advertisers to £5bn.
In after-hours trading, the share price for Alphabet, Google’s parent company, immediately jumped 9%, implying a total stock market value for Alphabet of $568bn. That meant it eclipsed rival Californian tech firm Apple, which has a value of $535bn, making Alphabet the most valuable company in the world.
As chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, summarised the group’s tax position, there was no mention of the £130m 10-year tax settlement with HMRC that has led to widespread outrage.
Instead, Porat highlighted that a better-than-expected settlement with the US tax authorities – relating to separate multi-year dispute – had seen the group’s effective tax rate drop sharply during the last three months of the year.
Porat said that, as a result, the group’s effective tax rate had been 17% for 2015, down from 19.3% in 2014. This compares with a headline tax rate of 35% in the US, the group’s largest market, and a rate of 20% in the UK, its second biggest market.
Key to Google’s low tax rate is the controversial and complex arrangements it uses to shift non-US income from the UK and elsewhere to Bermuda, using aggressive tax strategies known as the double Irish and the Dutch sandwich.
Much of Google income from the UK arrives in Ireland and is then squeezed through another Google company in the Netherlands before bouncing back to Ireland and Bermuda, a UK overseas territory and tax haven.
George Osborne had promised to stop multinationals diverting UK sales and profits overseas, but Google this month announced it had struck a deal with HMRC to continue the controversial arrangement.
The episode as initially claimed as a “major success” by Osborne, who introduced a tax on diverted profits last year. Many critics have since labelled it a “sweetheart deal” and even business minister Sajid Javid said it was “not a glorious moment”.
The chancellor had said his diverted profits tax would force companies to unwind their complex tax structures which “abuse the trust of the British people”. As a consequence, the tax was dubbed “the Google tax”
Google’s UK business paid tax of just £21m for 2013. The British company’s soon-to-be-published latest accounts – for the 18 months to June 2015 – show it has agreed to pay back taxes and interest of £130m covering underpayments stretching back a decade.
As in previous years, 2015 after-tax profits from the UK and other non-US markets have further boost Google’s Bermudan coffers in 2015.
Defending its UK tax settlement, Google has previously said: “After a six-year audit by the tax authority we are paying the amount of tax that HMRC agrees we should pay. Governments make tax law, the tax authorities enforce the law and Google complies with the law.”
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