The EU Bills Amazon For Hundreds Of Millions In Back Taxes, Plus Yahoo Learns To Count

by 3 weeks ago

morning brew

Quote of the Day

“No one is investing in a co-working company worth $20 billion. That doesn’t exist…our valuation and size today are much more based on our energy and spirituality than it is on a multiple of revenue.”

WeWork CEO Adam Neumann. So Adam, what’s your price/spirituality ratio?

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*As of market close

Market Snapshot

U.S. indexes finished higher—the S&P and Nasdaq hit five-day winning streaks.
Strong U.S. car sales and rising airline stocks lifted the market.
The Hang Seng posted its best trading session of the year, up 2.2%.
Gold fell to a seven-week low with rising rate hike expectations.

EU Bills Bezos

EU regulators will continue their round-up of multinational “outlaws” today, slapping Amazon (-0.22%) with a several hundred million dollar bill for avoiding EU taxes since 2004 (h/t FT).

The European Commission’s head bounty hunter, Margrethe Vestager, alleged Amazon funneled over $3 billion in profits to its Luxembourg-based subsidiaries to protect them from European taxes.

How? Luxembourg supposedly offered a cap on taxable profits to Amazon. In return, Amazon would place its core European operations in Luxembourg.

This isn’t the first de-Luxe treatment

Luxembourg, a tiny nation of 580,000, has cemented itself as the “cool uncle” of the EU, offering lucrative tax breaks to corporations. One Disney subsidiary reported $1.2 billion in pretax profit over four years, but only paid $3.2 million in taxes—that’s a 0.25% tax rate!

Not convinced? Look no further than FedEx, which enjoyed an effective tax rate of less than 1%. Altogether, Luxembourg has lured well over 300 misty-eyed multinationals into its European tax haven heaven.

But the pearly gates are closing fast

The EU has been on high alert, plugging up tax loopholes across the European bloc. Vestager cracked the whip on Apple last August, demanding it cough up $15 billion to Ireland in unpaid taxes. And Starbucks found a ~$35 million ticket on its windshield in the Netherlands for a grande cup of tax evasion.

It begs the question: how will multinationals react? If historically low tax rates and loopholes drove $2.6 trillion overseas in the first place, could a GOP plan for lower U.S. corporate taxes (20% down from 35%) and a one-time tax repatriation holiday bring the cash back?

Are We There Yet?

Truck stops are about American as apple pie…and Buffett’s taking a big slice. Berkshire Hathaway acquired a 38.6% stake ($ amount wasn’t disclosed) in Pilot Flying J., the largest operator of travel centers in North America. Buffett plans to up his interest to 80% by 2023.

And he’s partnering with Midwestern royalty to do so: the founding Haslam family. Jimmy Haslam is Pilot’s CEO, and also the owner of the Cleveland Browns. Jimmy’s lil’ bro? Bill, the Governor of Tennessee.

You’re probably familiar with Pilot’s rest stops from the 40 oz soda and party-sized bag of Doritos you picked up on the way to Yosemite. It operates 750 locations across the U.S. and Canada, doing a healthy $20 billion+ in revenue. That makes it the 15th largest private company in the country.

With the investment, Buffett is going all-in on commercial goods transportation. He already owns BNSF Railway, one of the largest freight railroads in the U.S. with more than 32,000 miles of track across the fruited plain.

Sing along with Buffett: “America, America…”

D.C. Tees Off on Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo (+0.20%) CEO Tim Sloan faced an angry mob (aka the Senate Banking Committee) scrutinizing the bank’s response to the 2016 revelation that it had opened 3.5 million fake accounts.

Sloan took over last October for former CEO John Stumpf, but some senators feel like he hasn’t made amends for the company’s previous wrongdoings, which include signing up hundreds of thousands of customers for car insurance they didn’t need.

Lawmakers’ biggest issue with Sloan’s mop-up job is that Wells appears to be neglecting its commitment to resolve legal disputes in court—instead, opting for private arbitration.

A fan favorite from the shouting match: “At best, you were incompetent. At worst, you were complicit. Either way, you should be fired.” Compliments of Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Senator and big bank enemy No. 1.

Yahoo Learns to Count

Yahoo clearly couldn’t stand being one-upped by Equifax. Its parent Verizon revealed that the 2013 data breach affected 3 billion accounts—three times more than previously disclosed.

You think Verizon has buyer’s remorse? It placed a bid for Yahoo in the summer of 2016 for $4.5 billion. Then the onslaught began…

September 2016: Yahoo announced that a 2014 hack on its systems had compromised 500 million accounts.

December 2016: The company revealed an earlier hack (2013), where hackers made off with passwords, usernames, phone numbers, and even DOBs associated with 1 billion more accounts.

Now, it turns out the hackers were batting 1.000, compromising every single Yahoo account…bringing the total to 3 billion.

Going forward, Oath (Yahoo’s new media home under Verizon) will email the owners of the 2 billion accounts that somehow got lost in the shuffle. We send out emails for a living…trust us, that’s a lot of work.

What Else Is Happening…

  • Dara Khosrowshahi met with Transport for London to discuss Uber’s future in the city.
  • BlackRock’s ETF manager ruled out a digital currency fund.
  • GM (+3.08%) continued to shrink its presence in international markets.
  • Microsoft (-0.47%) showcased its new virtual reality acquisition, Altspace VR, at an event in SF.
  • Uber’s board agreed to limit Travis Kalanick’s power, but it didn’t rule out the possibility of a return.

The Breakroom

Question of the Day

Which number doubles when it is divided by itself but halves when it is multiplied by itself?

Business Trivia

In yesterday’s Brew, we mentioned that Barcelona-based CaixaBank was the third-largest bank in Spain. In terms of total assets, what’s #1?

Stat of the Day

$110–That’s about how much Samsung will make for each iPhone X sold. If you didn’t know, Apple sources OLED displays, NAND flash, and DRAM chips from its competitor.

More from the community…

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