BRUSSELS — A European Union court on Wednesday delivered a hammer blow to the bloc’s attempts to rein in sweetheart tax deals between multinationals and individual member countries when it ruled that technology giant Apple does not have to pay 13 billion euros ($15 billion) in back taxes to Ireland.
The EU Commission had claimed in 2016 that Apple had struck an illegal tax deal with Irish authorities that allowed it to pay extremely low rates. But the EU’s General Court said Wednesday that ”the Commission did not succeed in showing to the requisite legal standard that there was an advantage.”
“The Commission was wrong to declare” that Apple “had been granted a selective economic advantage and, by extension, state aid,” said the Luxembourg-based court, which is the second-highest in the EU.
The EU Commission had ordered Apple to pay for gross underpayment of tax on profits across the European bloc from 2003 to 2014. The commission said Apple used two shell companies in Ireland to report its Europe-wide profits at effective rates well under 1%.
In many cases, multinationals can pay taxes on the bulk of their revenue across the EU’s 27 countries in the one EU country where they have their regional headquarters. For Apple and many other big tech companies, that is Ireland. For small EU countries like Ireland, that helps attract international business and even a small amount of tax revenue is helpful for them. The net result, however, is that the companies often end up paying very low tax.
The ruling can only be appealed on points of law and the Commission Vice President Margrethe Vestager said she was studying the judgment and will “reflect on possible next steps.”
The Irish government welcomed the ruling, saying “there was no special treatment provided” to the U.S. company. Apple also said it was pleased by the decision, arguing that the case is not about how much tax it pays, but in what country. Apple CEO Tim Cook had earlier called the EU demand for back taxes “total political crap.”
The defeat is especially stinging for Vestager, who has campaigned for years to root out special tax deals. Trump has referred to her as the “tax lady” who “really hates the U.S.”
Despite the setback, she vowed to carry on the fight. “The Commission will continue to look at aggressive tax planning measures under EU state aid rules to assess whether they result in illegal state aid,” she said.
The Eurodad network of 49 civil society organisations said that the ruling showed how tough any tax policy remains. “”If we had a proper corporate tax system, we wouldn’t need long court cases to find out whether it is legal for multinational corporations to pay less than 1% in taxes,” said Tove Maria Ryding of Eurodad.
Even though taxation remains under the authority of its member countries, the EU is seeking to create a level playing field among the 27 nations by making sure special deals including ultra-low tax rates with multinationals are weeded out.
Wednesday’s ruling will hurt that.
EU Greens legislator Sven Giegold said the verdict “is a huge setback in the fight against tax dumping in Europe. EU state aid rules are clearly totally insufficient to tackle the problem. This must be a wakeup call.”
The ruling comes at a time when tax income for EU nations is especially welcome because of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. At a time when cash-strapped households are suffering, the EU wants to make sure multinationals making profits on the continent pay their fair share, too.
“In times like these when we are passing multibillion-euro economic stimulus packages, we cannot afford to waste a single cent in tax revenue“, said EU legislator Markus Ferber of the Christian Democrat EPP Group.
Amazon all but destroyed shopping malls. Expedia dislocated travel agents. Uber sent taxis into a tailspin.
Now will real estate agents be next? Will iBuyers take over their business?
The advent of online companies paying cash to buy homes directly from sellers has sent shock waves through real estate brokerages across the nation.
Are they cutting out the Realtor?
The chief executive of California Association of Realtors told agents Wednesday, Sept. 25, they have little to fear from iBuyers — provided they embrace change, technology and adapt.
The iBuyer “changes the way you do business as technology has done … to everything in the last 30 years,” said Joel Singer, CEO of the state Realtor association for the past three decades. “But it doesn’t change it in a way that should generate fear. It should generate a sense of opportunity.”
Singer, who long has preached the need for Realtors to adapt to changing technology, was the keynote speaker Wednesday at the state association’s 2019 convention in downtown Los Angeles, addressing a number of new business models and potential disruptors confronting the real estate industry.
His conclusion: The traditional method of selling homes in America has survived decades of innovations many thought would eliminate brokers, even as internet users increased to 81% of the population.
Citing figures showing 91 percent of home sellers used an agent this year, Singer said, “Our market share has not changed.”
The reasons are twofold, Singer said: First the industry itself has adapted and evolved. Seventy-seven percent of agents say they now are completely or almost completely mobile. Eighty-six percent use social media in their business. The average agent spends $2,000 a year on technology.
The other reason is the nature of home sales, which Singer said is more personal and complex than other transactions that have gone online — such as buying an airline ticket or buying a book.
“You cannot automate that (homebuying) experience,” Singer said.
Which is not to say there isn’t room for improvement.
Buying and selling a home remains a painful process. Twenty-six percent of homebuyers complain the process is too costly, while about a fifth say it takes too long, it’s inefficient, a “rough ride,” according to a recent Google consumer poll.
“What should be an incredibly joyous thing, buying a new house, buying your first house, … is often quite nerve-wracking, quite difficult, (with) a lot of uncertainty and stress,” Singer said. “Until we can figure out how to deal with that, we make ourselves as an industry ripe for certain amounts of change.”
There’s no shortage of potential disruptors. Among them, discount brokers, flat-fee brokers, brokerages that let agents keep their commissions and brokerages with their own exclusive listing services.
iBuyers are perhaps the latest disruptor to appear, surfacing in Phoenix in 2014 then spreading across the nation. Companies like Opendoor, Redfin Now, Offerpad and Zillow Now began buying homes in Southern California in 2017.
They provide easy-to-use websites that allow home sellers to submit information about their house, then get a guaranteed cash offer within a week or less. The iBuyers deduct the cost of repairs and charge a “convenience fee.”
In Phoenix, as many as 40% of homesellers are getting offers from iBuyers, many of them before selling with a traditional agent, Singer said.
“That becomes the norm,” he said. “You get their price and their cost, and then you get the Realtor price.”
There is a place for iBuyers, catering mainly to sellers willing to take less for their home for the added convenience or certainty of a cash sale, Singer said. He estimated iBuyers will handle 10-15% of all home sales by the end of the next decade.
But they won’t take over.
“There are things to fear in this world. There are a lot of things to fear,” Singer said, citing a potential economic downturn, the state’s housing shortage and falling homeownership rates as things that should keep Realtors up at night.
“But I don’t think we have to worry that much about changes being made in the brokerage industry,” he said. “We’re going to be in a world where the biggest competition today and your biggest competition in the foreseeable future really isn’t these outsiders. … Your major competition is each other.”
California is outperforming the nation in job growth, and the state’s inland regions are leading the way, according to the latest UCLA Anderson Forecast.
In a turnaround from the norm, the report shows that the Inland Empire, San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento are outpacing some of California’s tech-heavy regions, which traditionally see the bigger job gains. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to the report.
More balanced growth
“Growth is now more balanced and the diversification of employment makes the state less vulnerable to one sector imploding,” the report said. “To be sure, if tech imploded as in 2001, it would be a serious blow to the state, but unlike 2001, the more balanced growth of today would focus the pain in one region rather than more generally.”
California employment hit an all-time high in January with more than 16 million nonfarm payroll jobs, the forecast said. That was 9.9 percent higher than the state’s pre-recession peak and 20.2 percent higher than at the depth of the last recession.
The biggest job creator
The study’s charts show that the Inland Empire is the state’s biggest job creator.
In December, the two-county region posted year-over-year job growth of 3.4 percent. The Silicon Valley grew by 2.2 percent during the same period, followed by the Sacramento Delta (2 percent), San Francisco (1.9 percent) and the San Joaquin Valley (1.7 percent). The nation’s job growth was 1.5 percent.
Orange County also expanded its payrolls by 1.5 percent and Los Angeles County ranked second to the bottom on the list with a gain of just 1.2 percent. All of those numbers are subject to revision, however, when new figures are released Wednesday from the state Employment Development Department.
California’s biggest employment gains have come in health care and social services, as well as leisure and hospitality. Technology and administrative services, which in past combined to be a major contributor to job growth, have now become only minor ones, the report said. And temporary workers are no longer being added in significant numbers, adding further confirmation that job markets are tight.
Why the shift occurred
Jerry Nickelsburg, director and senior economist for the Anderson Forecast, explained the shift in job creation:
“Back in 2008, we characterized the California economy as a bifurcated economy, where the coastal economy was beginning to grow and grew rapidly, leading the U.S. in the recovery,” he said. “The inland parts of the state were mired in recession for a very long time.”
The latest report shows that California is “in a time of convergence,” according to Nickelsburg.
“The inland parts of the state are growing more rapidly and are leading the state to outperform the U.S. economy,” he said. “The fact that the inland parts of the state are growing faster than most coastal regions suggests that the inland areas have room to continue to grow.”
The report ties the turnaround in job creation to a number of factors. San Francisco’s job growth has been hampered by the high cost of housing and limited office space, the study said, while a similar trend has been seen in the Silicon Valley, although to a lesser extent. The North Bay region of the San Francisco area has likewise been impacted by devastating wildfires. All of those areas are technology centers which typically fuel some of California’s stronger employment growth.
Nickelsburg said it’s largely a matter of playing catch-up after the last recession.
“The Inland Empire lost a lot of jobs in manufacturing and housing,” he said. “Manufacturing is not rebounding, but we’re seeing continued growth in construction, and housing is a big part of that.”
Inland Empire economist John Husing said much of the region’s construction activity involves the building of roadways, other transportation projects and massive e-commerce centers.
“Almost all of the e-commerce centers in Southern California have been built out here because they are big and require a lot of land,” he said. “Amazon has more than 16,000 employees in the Inland Empire. They have 10 e-commerce centers out here now and they’re in the process of building two more.”
Husing said the region’s logistics sector — which includes wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing — is the Inland Empire’s biggest job creator.
“About 20 percent of all our direct job gains have been in logistics,” he said. “And that doesn’t include the multipliers. When someone works for Amazon, they go to places like Stater Bros., so some of the jobs at Stater Bros. are indirectly supported by Amazon. And there are also commercial laundry companies where workers pick up their uniforms. All of that brings more money and jobs into the region.”
The forecast predicts that California’s employment base will expand by 2.2 percent this year, 1.7 percent in 2019 and 0.9 percent in 2020. Home building is expected to accelerate to about 138,000 units per year by the end of 2020.
The study additionally notes that the ongoing increase in the federal deficit will put pressure on international trade, increasing the likelihood of trade actions that would depress California’s logistics and export industries.
Ingram Micro CEO Alain Moni outside their offices in Irvine. (Photo by Michael Kitada, contributing photographer)
Yesenia Martinez puts boxes together in the warehouse at Ingram Micro distribution center in Mira Loma on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Ingram Micro is a distributor of technology products and services. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
An employee searches for products in the warehouse at Ingram Micro distribution center in Mira Loma on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Ingram Micro is a distributor of technology products and services. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Lawrence Shaw moves orders to pallets in the warehouse at Ingram Micro distribution center in Mira Loma on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Ingram Micro is a distributor of technology products and services. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
An employee processes receiving orders in the warehouse at Ingram Micro distribution center in Mira Loma on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Ingram Micro is a distributor of technology products and services. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
An employee moves products at Ingram Micro distribution center in Mira Loma on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Ingram Micro is a distributor of technology products and services. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Erica Silva packing orders through a loading machine at Ingram Micro distribution center in Mira Loma on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Ingram Micro is a distributor of technology products and services. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Products and orders are stacked on shelfs in the warehouse at Ingram Micro distribution center in Mira Loma on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Ingram Micro is a distributor of technology products and services. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
An employee grabs orders to a forklift at Ingram Micro distribution center in Mira Loma on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Ingram Micro is a distributor of technology products and services. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
David Acuna loads orders to a pallet at Ingram Micro distribution center in Mira Loma on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Ingram Micro is a distributor of technology products and services. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Ingram Micro CEO Alain Moni outside their offices in Irvine. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)
A sprawling complex snaked with 5 miles of conveyor belts hums as workers process boxes and ride forklifts.
Tools, toys and beige boxes stretch out as far as the eye can see.
The cavernous facility, three warehouses tucked alongside the 15 in Riverside County, typically employs 650 people. That number soars to 980 in December as holiday shopping demand peaks. On Black Friday alone, the complex handles 76,000 orders.
Don’t be fooled. This is not another story about Amazon, the company many of us imagine when beige boxes and conveyor belts come to mind.
Instead, it’s the Mira Loma distribution hub for Ingram Micro, the Irvine-based logistics company considered to be the world’s biggest player in the tech wholesale market.
While Orange County in recent years has seen some of its giant tech firms acquired, downsized and relocated (think: Broadcom and Western Digital), Ingram Micro is on a different track. Bought in 2016 for $6 billion by HNA Group and its subsidiary Tianjin Tianhai Investment Co., the company remains rooted in Southern California and is growing and evolving.
The company, which reported fourth-quarter sales of $12.2 billion, an 8 percent increase, was founded as Micro D in 1979 by Geza Czige and Lorraine Mecca, a husband and wife team of teachers. Long known as a logistics company, in recent years Ingram Micro has expanded its focus, honing in on software development, the growing cloud storage segment and the maintenance and recycling of personal technology.
“People still think we’re a box mover,” Chief Executive Alain Monié said. “We do that, and we’re probably among the best in the world to do that, but we do so many other things. We’re a software company now. We own intellectual property. Our cloud platform that we use for our own needs is being used by more than 130 telecos around the world.”
Monié lists Ingram Micros’s accomplishments like a proud father: “We repair devices. We work with companies like Walmart.com or Apple and others to help them fulfill their e-commerce activities. The companies we represent are also learning how much else we can do for them.”
The company, with 900 employees in Orange County, has made roughly 30 acquisitions in the last five years, several of which were in the mobile tech services industry.
Monié does not anticipate his employee count will change in Orange County, but the company last year laid off 900 workers at its wireless device repair and distribution center in Fort Worth, Texas, according to state filings.
Monié, who is French-born and has been CEO since 2012, sat down with the Register to discuss acquisitions, hiring and the future of the company. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q What do you look for when hiring?
A It’s a mix of experience and skills and capability to grow in the future. There are some roles where you need prior experience. There are some roles where it’s really about what you can bring in terms of momentum and creativity. In Orange County, we have a lot of IT people. We have a lot of sales and management. So those are the skills we look for here. And there are different skills need for our distribution center.
Q Are you finding the right people in Orange County?
A It’s not always easy. We first look here, but then, given the scope and the specificity in our business, we have to go national to attract good people. Orange County is a very good destination for potential candidates. Of course, the cost of living here is a question, but there is no issue in bringing interested associates to this region. We have great colleges, weather and quality of life.
Q Why have your headquarters in Orange County, especially when tech companies like Broadcom and Western Digital are moving to San Jose?
A It’s historical. We’ve put together a team. You don’t decide to go somewhere else and have 900 people with the skills you need follow you. That just doesn’t happen.
Q Why did you move to Irvine from Santa Ana almost two years ago?
A We had a very old building that was difficult to renovate without disruption. We stayed in the old building while we did all the preparations (in Irvine) and moved over the weekend. We came to a much more modern environment where we are not isolated. We have other companies around us (Western Digital is in the same business complex). We have amenities around that are good for our people and easy to access.
Q What has changed since the company was acquired?
A Very little. Part of the discussions we had with them before we closed the deal was how the company was going to be managed. The HNA Group is very experienced in making acquisitions of companies around the world. They always keep management in place and let the companies they acquire continue their business the way they’ve been doing it.
Management is still the same. They are very supportive as far as the investments we want to make, but they are not getting into the day-to-day management of the company. We get together on a quarterly basis for board meetings. We agree on our strategies and how to execute those strategies.
I’m still running the company the same way I used to. In fact, it’s even easier. There are less explanations to less shareholders on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We only have one shareholder now and once that shareholder is convinced we go ahead. It’s much easier.
Q The company has made 30 acquisitions in the past five years. Why grow now?
A If you don’t grow, you are going to be less relevant to the industry. If you don’t go into new areas that the industry is evolving into, such as the cloud, you’re going to go backward. It’s a necessity for us to stay in the business. Our objective is to do more and better. To do that we need to grow globally and in the diversity of services that we offer.
Q What do you look for when deciding what companies to acquire?
A There are two types of acquisitions. The first is strengthening the core of your business, doing more of the same to be stronger and to have a better reach for our customers, increasing our footprint and capabilities in our core business.
The second type of acquisition is acquiring new skills that we don’t have and are necessary for us to develop in new areas. A number of acquisitions we’ve made are into cloud, into reverse logistics, forward logistics, repairs. Things that we don’t do today but are necessary for us to grow in the future.
For example, we bought a company in the Middle East to cover the Middle East and Africa, a region we were not in. At the same time, we buy companies that do cell phone repairs.
It’s a lot faster to get skills in the company through acquisition than developing them on your own.
Q Are there plans for more acquisitions?
A When you’re this big, this diverse, acquisitions will always be a way to grow. They’re a good complement to organic growth and help you get there faster. We will continue using a mix of organic growth and acquisitions.
Q How much involvement do you have in the day-to-day operations of the companies you acquire?
A We try to preserve the quality and the reason for which we bought them. We are very mindful not to impact that. But we want to instill in these organizations the best practices we have that benefit them. Like security. Cybersecurity is something we are very focused on. Some of the companies don’t have the same level of investment in those areas. Another is compliance. When you buy companies that are smaller or in certain geographies, they don’t normally have the same compliance programs. We are very focused on expanding the level of the compliance programs to all of the acquisitions.
The company reported fourth quarter sales of $12.2 billion, an 8 percent increase. To what do you attribute the growth?
As we add skills and services, we become even more relevant to our customer base. The more relevant you are, the more they come to you.
We’re also doing well in grabbing some market share.
What’s next for Ingram Micro?
We will continue growing our core business: our distribution business around the world. At the same time, we will grow our business units: our cloud business unit, our lifecycle services and our commerce and fulfillment, which is executing the delivery of products for those who have a website where you can buy stuff.
When you go on any website, you click the buy button. Someone then needs to ship and deliver it to you. Someone needs to do the logistics for you. We’re investing a lot in that area around systems to connect.
We need to create systems that link you as a customer to who has that stuff you’re buying and where and making that happen. We don’t have to do it all ourselves. All we have to do is create that platform that connects the customer to those that have the inventory. That’s growing very fast, double-digit growth.
A lot of people now are not buying hardware and laptops, they can get those same services on the cloud. Enterprises do it also. Instead of having big data centers in the company, they use the cloud. We’re offering that transition-premise premise to the cloud to our current customers.
Lifecycle services is really around capturing the value. With phones, we used to only make a certain amount of money when the phone was first sold. That device has a life. It gets repaired. You have an insurance plan that goes with it. And then at the end of the life, it can be redeployed in other geographies. We accompany the device all along its life. We’re acquiring additional services to go with that. We’re acquiring in new geographies too.
How did you start using cloud technology and how do you see the technology progressing?
The analogy is clear between virtual goods and physical goods. As a distributor, we buy hardware from those who manufacture it, put it in a distribution center and when our customers order something, we deliver it.
Now, instead of physical goods, you have services that are on the cloud. You can buy storage. You can buy computer capability. How do we now become the distributor of those services? What we have created is a platform. It’s the equivalent of the warehouse. It allows you to go and procure and provision all of these cloud services into an IT system, into a piece of software. It’s creating the equivalent of a warehouse by creating the software platform. It’s a natural path to continue as a distributor. It’s a natural evolution.
There’s some uncertainty now/lack of knowledge about how policy affecting business could change. How has this affected Ingram Micro?
The bigger changes are technology shifts and that’s what we’re focused on. What we need to do is be resilient and make sure that we are flexible and adaptable. The real area we need to focus is on actual technology changes that modify the fabric of what we do.