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Report: Google dodges taxes by shifting profits to Bermuda

Google's Bermuda dealings are again in the spotlight, this time in a report on the pay of top technology company executives.

Five of the ten best-paid finance bosses last year work in the technology industry, as executives at companies from Apple to Google were rewarded for increasing profit, amassing cash and minimising taxes.

Google, which had $48.1 billion in cash at the end of 2012, has seen its tax rate fall for three straight years. According to a Bloomberg report, last quarter, the company's effective tax rate was less than 10 percent, after it was able to write off research investments.

“Google avoided income taxes by shifting revenue into a Bermuda shell company, regulatory filings show,” Bloomberg reported yesterday.

“In 2011, Google reduced its tax bill by about $2 billion by legally funnelling profits from overseas subsidiaries into Bermuda, which doesn't have a corporate income tax. The amount moved to Bermuda was equivalent to about 80 percent of Google's total pretax profit in 2011.”

According to Bloomberg, Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer earned the most in fiscal 2012 — a $68.6 million package that dwarfed the $4.17 million awarded to chief executive officer Tim Cook, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Oracle Corp CFO Safra Catz was second at $51.7 million, making her the highest-paid female leader, while Patrick Pichette at Google was No. 3, with $38.7 million.

The pay recognises technology executives who finished the year with more than $230 billion in cash and investments — about seven times the total for the other companies with CFOs in the top ten. Stock awards, common at computer and Web companies, also helped boost compensation for industry finance chiefs as Google and Apple traded near record highs in 2012.

"They're a key part of the organisation and they're paid accordingly," said David Larcker, a professor of accounting at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in Stanford, California. "It would be very surprising if their performance evaluation wasn't heavily weighted to minimising corporate taxes. That's their job."

Bloomberg said Facebook's David Ebersman and Intel's Stacy Smith were among the ten best-compensated. Their counterparts at VMware, Adobe Systems, eBay and EMC also made the top 25.

The report noted technology shares have outperformed the broader market. The NASDAQ 100 Stock Index, which is weighted toward companies such as Apple and Google, gained 17 percent last year, compared with a 13 percent advance for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.

The companies also have lower tax rates. For members of the S&P 500, the average effective rate last year was 41 percent, compared with less than 30 percent for the nine technology companies with CFOs who ranked among the 25 highest-paid last year.

Bloomberg said some technology CFOs are minimising taxes by recording fewer profits in the United States, which has a 35 percent corporate tax rate, and more in overseas tax havens, where levies are lower or nonexistent. Many companies are able to accomplish this by moving earnings from intellectual property such as patents across international borders.

Bloomberg said Apple's effective tax rate was 25.2 percent in fiscal 2012. The company finished fiscal 2012 with $121.3 billion in cash and long-term investments, including $83 billion outside the US Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Apple, said the company paid $6 billion in federal income taxes last year, for one of the biggest — if not the highest — corporate-tax payments.

Oracle's Catz is a longtime confidant of CEO Larry Ellison, the best-compensated executive in the S&P 500, and helps structure many of the company's acquisitions. Catz and Aon's Christa Davies were the only women among the top 25-paid CFOs. Oracle spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger declined to comment.

Google CFO Pichette benefited from a change in the policy for the timing of stock payout. Google, which had $48.1 billion in cash at the end of 2012, has seen its tax rate fall for three straight years. Last quarter, the company's effective tax rate was less than 10 percent, after it was able to write off research investments.

Leslie Miller, a spokeswoman for Google, declined to comment, Bloomberg said.

Facebook's Ebersman, who oversaw the company's initial public offering last year, ranked seventh by earning $17.5 million, while Intel's Smith made $15.3 million and came in ninth. That was partly due to a retention bonus. Non-technology CFOs in the top 10 included executives from HCA Holdings Inc, Comcast Corp, General Electric Co, Fidelity National Information Services Inc. and Activision Blizzard Inc.

Ashley Zandy, spokeswoman for Facebook, declined to comment, as did Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for Intel.

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Published May 09, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 08, 2013 at 6:10 pm)

Report: Google dodges taxes by shifting profits to Bermuda

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