Article

15.05.2018

Thinking of buying a property with your company? Take care!

We explain how stricter rules now apply to the "split purchase" of a property obtained via a company. This is a favourable fiscal arrangement for a company director, but one that must be approached with more caution than ever.

The "usufruct/bare ownership" structure

For several years now, the so-called mixed purchase (private/professional) of a property has been common practice for some company directors. This fiscally beneficial solution is based on the principle of "breaking up" full ownership of the property. On one hand, the usufruct is assigned to the company for a certain amount (proportion of the purchase price). This means that the company is entitled to use the property with no rental liabilities during a given period (generally between 20 and 30 years). On the other, the company director acquires bare ownership of the property, which allows him/her to retake full possession of the building once the usufruct has expired without paying a euro more.

The crux of the issue: the valuation of the usufruct

Where is the interest in this arrangement? It lies in maximising the cost to the company of acquiring the usufruct. This is because the larger the sum paid by the company, the smaller the sum the director has to pay at the time of purchase (not forgetting taxes, registration levies, indemnities, etc.). In addition, the company can deduct building/service charges such as withholding tax, maintenance and financial costs, and amortise the value of the usufruct over the agreed term. This is the best possible fiscal scenario, but one that has resulted in a certain amount of abuse at the point of the oft-mentioned "usufruct valuation". It is not by chance then that the tax authorities have been studying the issue for a few years now with a view to tidying things up a little.

The taxman turns the screw even more

Up until now, the authorities used a formula known as the Ruysseveldt formula to calculate the usufruct value, based on the discounted proceeds of gross rental yield for the duration of the usufruct term. However, this approach led to over-valuations, and so did not prove effective enough in the eyes of the tax authorities. This is why they recently decided to apply a new financial appraisal formula which is much tougher. In reality, this is the method already in place since 2016 to assess cases filed with the Service des décisions anticipées (SDA) (advance ruling service) of Federal Public Service Finance. It should be recalled that this service has established a "pre-filing procedure" for usufruct arrangements (used in advance of the official application) to ensure the future operation benefits from a certain degree of legal security.

The "advance ruling" formula is much less favourable

By changing its stance on the issue, the tax authorities could cause problems for some directors who have been too greedy. This is because the two formulae produce rather different results. Take this basic example of a property with a purchase price of EUR 500,000, for which the company acquired the usufruct at a cost of EUR 425,000 under the Ruysseveldt formula (85% of the price). In this case, the director has only paid EUR 75,000 for the bare ownership. Based on the authorities' new approach, the financial valuation of the usufruct would actually sit at around 60%, with bare ownership at around 40%. This means the individual would have had to pay EUR 125,000 more – an altogether different situation.

Handle with care

So any head of a company who wishes to be involved in this kind of operation will need to be more prudent than ever before. One of the most important things is to demonstrate that the arrangement genuinely reflects a financial logic. With this in mind, well-informed entrepreneurs will ensure they prove the property deal will profit the company, and will adequately evaluate the usufruct's value and term. Finally, we should emphasise that approval can be sought from the tax authorities via the fiscal ruling website.

Article

23.08.2016

Capital Markets Union: It’s Not About Us, It’s About You

How to harmonize capital markets and regulation across Europe? Petra De Deyne, Regulatory Affairs Manager for Global Markets at BNP Paribas, presents the new initiative of the European Commission to build a single market for all 28 Member States of the Union.

After the crisis of 2007-2008, financial stability was the key priority for the European Commission. In order to restore that stability, the resilience of banks needed to be strengthened and systemic risk in the markets needed to be contained, which had Brussels produce that famous “tsunami” of regulation. Today, most of the work to make banks and markets stable again is done and the respective legislation has been or will soon be implemented.

Growth as a priority

The next item on the European Commission’s to-do list is now to create growth. Therefore, corporates need to grow their businesses, invest and expand. Historically, corporates have been very much dependent on bank lending if they want to expand. However, on the back of capital and liquidity requirements imposed by bank regulation, some banks have found it more difficult to fulfil their role of traditional lender. Seeing their bank funding channels drying up, larger corporates turned to capital markets, but did not always meet favourable borrowing conditions and interested investors. For some of the smaller corporates, getting funding had become as good as impossible. A survey done by the ECB and the European Commission in 2014 on the access to finance of enterprises (SAFE) showed that 35% of SMEs did not get the full financing they asked their banks for in 2013.

Looking at the US, we notice that corporates get about three quarters of their funding directly from the capital markets, and rely only to a small extent on bank lending. In Europe the situation is the other way round. So Europe wondered if they could create a funding landscape that would resemble more the US situation. That would mean that those in need of financing would meet directly with those that have money to invest. It would reduce the dependency of the real economy on banks, which would again contribute to financial stability. However, what is needed in that case is a harmonized, well integrated capital market in Europe. And this is where comes in the initiative of the European Commission: build a Capital Markets Union.

So in short, this is what CMU is about: it is a plan to create a single market for all 28 Member States of the European Union, where, on the one hand, funding choices for corporates will be diversified beyond bank lending and where, on the other hand, investment opportunities and the investor base will be broadened.

So what’s the plan?

“The Plan”, which the European Commission published in October 2015, sets 4 clear objectives:

  1. Support job creation and growth
  2. Connect financing effectively to investment projects across the EU
  3. Make the financial system more stable
  4. Deepen financial integration and increase competition

“The Plan” also defines 5 priority areas for action, with over 30 different initiatives for reviews, assessments, reports, initiatives and legislative proposals, all to be taken between now and sometime in 2018.

The first priority is to provide more funding choices for Europe’s corporates and SMEs. Here we will see initiatives to support venture capital and innovative forms of financing, such as crowdfunding. The EU is also thinking about ways to provide necessary data on SMEs to investors, so that they can make well informed investment decisions.

Second, long term investment has to be promoted. An initiative here is to make sure that capital requirements for insurers are reviewed so that they see their investment needs more efficiently met. Measures will also be taken to promote investment in infrastructure projects.

Third, the range of investment choices both for retail and institutional investors has to broaden. In this area, we will see, amongst others, incentives to promote pensions savings and private placements.

The fourth priority is to enhance the capacity of the banks to step up lending. This may sound contradictory, as the idea of the CMU is to move away from traditional lending. However, for a lot of SMEs, banks will still remain the prime source of financing. So Europe wants to make sure that banks can offload more assets from their balance sheet so that they have extra space to lend.

And lastly, the EU wants to dismantle barriers that would hamper cross-border investment across the Member States. This is quite an ambitious area, where certain tax issues will be tackled, and where we will see a certain harmonization as far as national insolvency laws and securities laws are concerned.

Immediate action

Simultaneously with the publication of “The Plan”, the European Commission issued a couple of legislative proposals and 3 consultations, as a matter of launching the short term actions right away and getting the train out of the station.

The European Commission takes immediate action in the field of securitization. This may seem quite controversial as some will still consider this as the root of all evil. However, it is a critical tool to finance the economy and it sits high on the Commission’s agenda. In order to kick start the securitizations market, the EU has come up with a legislative proposal, the purpose of which is twofold:

  • First, it aims at reinstalling confidence. Therefore, a quality label is introduced: “Simple, Transparent and Standardized” securitizations. That means that any “STS” securitisation will comply with over 20 different standards, thus helping investors to better understand these products and ensuring quality. Second, it incentivizes banks to restart the activity again by giving these STS securitizations a better capital treatment, compared to other forms of securitisation.
  • Next to that, the EU has issued a proposal to adjust Solvency II rules for insurers, so that they would have to deploy less capital when investing in long term infrastructure projects or in European Long Term Investment Funds (ELTIFs).

Also note that the European Commission is looking into covered bonds. Currently there are 26 different covered bond frameworks in the EU, an area which could possibly benefit from a certain level of harmonization. While the idea is not to create a single framework for Europe, the Commission would look to promote best practices, step up transparency and remove barriers that would hamper cross-border investments. We also saw a consultation venture capital and a call for evidence on the cumulative impact of financial legislation.

Reduce paperwork

In the medium term, a review of the Prospectus Directive is on the cards. This is a logical move, given that the EU would like to attract many more corporates directly onto the capital markets to issue debt. Making prospectuses cheaper and less burdensome for smaller issuers on the one hand and more user friendly for investors on the other hand, would be a welcome help in that respect.

Another initiative is a Green Paper (this is a first, general exchange of views between the EC and the industry to explore a certain topic) on Retail Financial Services. Here he European Commission is exploring ways to enhance competition and make sure that consumers have access to a broader range of services in order to get the best deal around, when it comes to mortgages, savings products, insurance, banks accounts etc.

In the long term, count 2017/2018, we can expect further steps to support SME growth markets and private placements, along with plans for a pan-European Pension Fund. As already mentioned earlier, matters regarding withholding tax and insolvency law will get attention as well.

Benefits for companies

All in all, CMU certainly has a fully packed and ambitious agenda. Now what’s in it for companies, really? Potentially a lot. However, we appreciate that the road to a real CMU may be a far longer one. 2019 seems awfully close for some of the changes to  happen. Rebalancing financial intermediation for example will most probably be a gradual, organic process that will go hand in hand with political interests, FinTech developments etc., rather than a major shift on a particular point in time.

Also, it will need a change in mind-set and behaviour by all stakeholders involved. The effects of a CMU may be more pronounced for the corporate sectors of certain countries with relatively small capital markets. For these countries, some of the initiatives could be particularly beneficial. Their domestic capital markets may currently not be able to cater for their large corporates, pushing them away to international markets. CMU could bring them back home and expand their markets.

The benefits of CMU will be different for the different types of companies:

  • Start-ups will get special attention, as their innovation and entrepreneurial spirit are key to Europe’s growth potential. At this moment start-ups can turn to crowdfunding, but this is only developing and there is already some investment by business angels. However, these funding channels remain small and local and will not always provide the necessary funding at critical moments in their expansion. The initiatives to step up venture capital for example may be particular beneficial in that respect.
  • Small companies that are struggling to get bank funding, especially in those countries that have been hit the hardest by the crisis, may unlock more funding via securitization. SMEs in particular could be positively impacted, as the intended side effect would be that securitisation allows banks to step up the lending capacity, knowing that bank lending for this type of corporates may remain a very important source of funding. Next to that, the European Commission also wants to work closely together with the SME growth markets, a new market sub-category created under MiFID II to facilitate access to capital for SMEs, to ensure that the regulatory environment for these markets delivers the expected results.
  • Medium and large-sized companies, which may already have access to capital markets, should also feel the effects as CMU will support investors who wish to place larger amounts of capital in the market. The initiative to promote private placements, building on successful experiences such as the one in Germany and through supporting market-led initiatives such as the one by ICMA on the use of standardized documentation could be quite helpful. Tackling tax issues could come in helpful as well.

What is important too is that the European Commission is also planning to review the functioning of the European corporate bond market and to see how market liquidity can be improved. A well-functioning secondary market will be crucial for the success of the primary debt markets.

So all in all, the Capital Markets Union is an ambitious, yet challenging plan of the European Commission. Ambitious because it intends to reengineer Europe’s traditional funding channels. Challenging because of the wide range of issues that need to be tackled to get there and the tight deadline. The outcome should be that corporates meet with investors in an efficient market place, thus broadening the scope of options for both parties to contribute to economic growth.

(Source: Focus Magazine CIB)

 

Article

24.10.2016

Indemnité km pour l'utilisation d'un vélo électrique : exonération fiscale sous condition

Les travailleurs qui se rendent au travail à bicyclette peuvent bénéficier d'une indemnité vélo de maximum 0,22 EUR/km. En principe, cette réglementation s'applique également aux vélos électriques, à l'exception toutefois de certains modèles, tels que le speed pedelec.

Le vélo électrique a le vent en poupe : plus d'un quart des bicyclettes vendues sont de type électrique. Dans le même temps, nous sommes de plus en plus nombreux à venir travailler à vélo. L'employeur a la possibilité d'octroyer à son personnel une indemnité vélo exonérée d'impôts à concurrence de 0,22 EUR/km, pour autant qu'il s'agisse d'un vélo électrique « classique » :

  • dont la vitesse maximale est de 25 km/h ;
  • dont la puissance du moteur n'excède pas 250 Watt ;
  • à assistance électrique, le cycliste doit donc pédaler pour avancer (il ne doit pas s'agir d'un moteur autonome).

Les speed pedelecs, exclus de l'exonération fiscale

Cette réglementation avantageuse ne s'applique pas aux speed pedelecs, lesquels constituent en quelque sorte des vélos électriques « de formule 1 ». Ils peuvent en effet atteindre une vitesse de 45 km/h et requièrent, depuis le 1er octobre, le port d'un casque, la détention d'un permis de conduire et la prise d'une assurance.

Précisons toutefois que les navetteurs roulant à speed pedelec peuvent bénéficier d'une indemnité kilométrique de leur employeur, mais celle-ci sera considérée comme un revenu imposable. Le travailleur devra donc payer des cotisations ONSS ainsi que le précompte professionnel. Cette règle connaît cependant une exception lorsque les collaborateurs optent pour une déduction forfaitaire de leurs frais professionnels. Ils ont alors droit à une exonération fiscale de maximum 380 EUR.

Quid des vélos mis à disposition par l'employeur ?

L'employeur peut également mettre des vélos à la disposition de son personnel. Tous les frais qui en découlent, comme les frais d'entretien, sont exonérés d'impôts, à condition que le collaborateur s'en serve réellement pour parcourir ses trajets domicile-lieu de travail (mais il est aussi autorisé à effectuer des déplacements strictement privés). Cette réglementation s'applique uniquement aux vélos électriques classiques. Les speed pedelecs ne permettent (à nouveau) pas de bénéficier de cette exonération fiscale.

(Source : Partena)
Article

11.12.2016

Why is the European Justice sounding the death knell on "fairness tax"?

The Advocate General of the Court of Justice rules that the "Fairness Tax" contradicts European tax rules. What is the impact on Belgian companies and the State budget?

Since the 2014 tax year, national companies and Belgian subsidiaries of foreign companies have been subject to fairness tax (or "fairness tax"). Introduced by the Di Rupo government, this separate contribution of 5.15% is applied to the distribution of dividends which are not subject to the normal rate of corporation tax. At issue here is the application of the deduction of deferred tax losses or deductions for venture capital.

What is at stake?

When it was introduced, the government wanted to subject companies who paid little or no tax to a minimum tax, by using tax deduction mechanisms. Issue: when this tax was introduced, questions were raised about the compatibility of the legislation with tax law in the European Union.

In February 2014, the Belgian subsidiary of Fortum Project Finance (Finnish company) brought an appeal against this tax before the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court asked the European Court of Justice three questions:

  • Does the fairness tax constitute a withholding tax prohibited by the parent-subsidiary European directive?
  • Do dividends collected by Belgian companies not exempted in Belgium contravene the directive?
  • Does the different treatment of Belgian companies and Belgian subsidiaries of foreign companies contravene the freedom of establishment in the European Union?

A compatible... but problematic tax

The European Court of Justice finally gave its verdict, but the opinion still needs to be qualified in certain respects. The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice in effect deemed the fairness tax "contrary to European regulations", but he considered the measure to be compatible with the principle of free establishment laid down in the texts and treaties. The problem resides precisely around the directive governing parent companies and their subsidiaries in Belgium, the objective of which is an exemption from withholding tax (under certain conditions) for dividends paid by subsidiaries to parent companies, which the fairness tax calls into question.

A highly political issue too

"A skeleton comes out of the closet", commented the Minister of Finance Van Overtveldt after the opinion of the Advocate General. For him, the consequences could be enormous, particularly from a budgetary point of view, without so far giving the slightest indication of these. He added that he has "always had many doubts" about this tax, "a doubt confirmed by the Court." The government has stated that it is currently leaning towards a reform of corporation tax, in a tense atmosphere between the partners of the current majority, particularly to make "this tax fairer for SMEs."

The Socialist Party, for its part, continues to defend this minimal tax through thick and thin. The leader of the Socialist Group in the Chamber of Representatives, Laurette Onkelinkx, in L'Avenir, suspects that the Minister is benefitting from a "technical remark from the Advocate General to give a tax break to the multinationals" and that "this minimum tax should be maintained, (...) a matter of fiscal justice and decency with regard to the efforts required by the population."

Article

13.02.2017

Les conséquences de la taxe douanière américaine

Analyse de Koen De Leus, Chief Economist chez BNP Paribas Fortis.

Au lieu de taxer les entreprises sur la différence entre les revenus et les coûts globaux, les Etats-Unis souhaitent opter pour une taxe portant uniquement sur la différence entre les revenus et les coûts domestiques. Vu que tous les biens consommés aux Etats-Unis n’y sont pas produits, et que tous les biens qui y sont produits n’y sont pas nécessairement consommés, les chiffres nécessitent une correction. Il s’agit de la taxe douanière. Les importateurs paient une taxe de 20% sur les revenus réalisés aux Etats-Unis. Les exportateurs reçoivent un subside de 20% sur les produits exportés. Ce subside est nécessaire pour éviter de pénaliser les exportateurs. Vraiment ?

A première vue, on pourrait qualifier ce système de double protectionnisme : vous augmentez le coût des importations et vous baissez celui des exportations. Mais ce système ne tient pas compte de la probable évolution des taux de change, estime l’agence de recherche BCA. Imaginez que seule une taxe à l’importation soit appliquée : cela réduirait les importations, ainsi que la demande en devises étrangères. Le cours de change de ces devises baisserait et compenserait la taxe. La hausse du dollar aurait ainsi un impact négatif sur les exportations, avec comme conséquence une hausse du déficit de la balance commerciale. Pour éviter ce problème, on introduit parallèlement un subside à l’exportation. Le dollar augmente à un niveau qui ne touche ni les exportations ni les importations. Du moins en théorie.

Dans ce cas, quel est l’avantage d’une telle taxe douanière ? Elle augmenterait sensiblement l’impôt sur le revenu aux Etats-Unis. Aujourd’hui, de nombreuses sociétés internationales évitent de payer des impôts aux Etats-Unis. Les importateurs surestiment la valeur de leurs importations, et les exportateurs sous-estiment celle des exportations. Les importateurs comme Wal-Mart pourront encore surévaluer le prix de leurs importations, mais devront payer une taxe à l’importation. Idem pour les exportateurs comme General Electric. Et vu que le déficit de la balance commerciale américaine se monte à 500 milliards de dollars, la taxe douanière rapporterait 100 milliards de dollars. C’est un montant important comparé aux 350 milliards de dollars d’impôt des sociétés aujourd’hui perçu par le Trésor public, et qui permet de réduire considérablement cette taxe sans perte de revenus.

La question est bien entendu de savoir dans quelle mesure une telle taxe entraînerait une hausse du dollar. Si cette hausse est lente, les importateurs souffriront beaucoup, et les exportateurs seront les grands gagnants. Si le dollar augmente trop rapidement, cela comblera peut-être l’impact de la taxe douanière. La plupart des économistes penchent plutôt pour le premier scénario. Dans ce cas, la facture sera payée par les Américains les moins nantis et les importateurs. Il s’agit surtout de ceux qui consacrent proportionnellement une plus grande partie de leurs revenus à l’achat de biens importés par les grandes chaînes de magasins.

Les principales conclusions de Koen De Leus sont les suivantes :

  • En cas de taxe douanière, le dollar va continuer à remonter.
  • Bien qu’une telle taxe puisse se justifier sur base de considérations macro-économiques, elle sera considérée comme du protectionnisme d’un point de vue politique, et pourrait de ce fait créer un dangereux précédent.
  • Comme les grands exportateurs sont aussi importateurs, cette taxe pèsera sur les grandes chaînes de distribution. Pour Peter Navarro, le patron du nouveau « White House National Trade Council », c’est aussi effectivement l’objectif de l’administration Trump.

Si les Etats-Unis réduisent l’impôt des sociétés, la Belgique se retrouvera en première position d’un nouveau classement : celui du pays occidental dont l’impôt des sociétés est le plus élevé.

(Source : Economic Express Koen De Leus)

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