Wall Street Breakfast: What Moved Markets

Wall Street Breakfast: What Moved Markets
Wall Street Breakfast: What Moved Markets

The UK introduced a 25% windfall oil and gas tax. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government became the first to put into action an argument that the energy industry has profited too much from a surge in commodity prices that are stoking inflation. About 5 billion pounds is expected to be raised, which will finance a one-time payment of 650 pounds to about 8M of the poorest households.

Statements: “The oil and gas sector is making extraordinary profits,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said in Parliament. “Not as the result of recent changes to risk taking or innovation or efficiency, but as the result of surging global commodity prices.”

The tax “sends the wrong signal to the whole sector, against a backdrop of rising business taxation elsewhere,” Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist at the Confederation of British Industry, told the BBC.

How it works: Details of the final legislation remain vague. There will be a sunset clause; however, the clause will be price dependent, with no specified date. There will be an investment tax incentive; however, the incentive appears lower than existing incentives. And there may or may not be a “baseline” profitability measure which determines the quantum of the “windfall” profits. Furthermore, investors are left guessing at exactly who will pay the tax.

The UK has a somewhat complicated tax and royalty regime for North Sea producers. All UK resident companies pay corporate income tax on worldwide pre-tax profits. If BP (BP) earns a profit refining oil in Whiting Indiana, it will pay tax on those profits to the UK Treasury. However, the UK also charges North Sea producers a “ring fence” corporate tax, a “supplementary charge”, a “petroleum revenue tax” and a “value added tax.” Deloitte estimates the effective “government take” on pre-tax profits for UK North Sea producers at between 62% and 81%.

And although the Chancellor did not specify who will pay the incremental 25% tax, it’s likely to be imposed on UK producers, rather than UK-domiciled entities alone. That is to say, BP (BP) is unlikely to be charged a windfall tax on profits earned in Indiana, but Total (TTE) will bear the higher rates on UK North Sea production.

Start of a trend? Could the UK’s decision spur movements in other countries for similar taxes? The Wall Street Journal described the decision as “Boris Johnson Goes Bernie Sanders.” Undoubtedly, proponents of windfall taxes will point to a right-wing government embracing such policies as a starting point.

President Joe Biden has called for eliminating tax breaks for oil and fossil fuel companies, but a windfall tax seems remote. While it is a literal Conservative Party, the UK Parliamentary majority has a track record of tax moves that U.S. Republicans would consider as extremely left-wing. In 2011 Tory Chancellor George Osborne put a “supplementary charge” on oil and gas production to the tune of 2 billion pounds.

Energy tax increases “would disincentivize additional production, decrease supply, and subsequently increase energy costs for families at a time of historic inflation and record-high gasoline prices,” Anne Bradbury, CEO of the American Exploration and Production Council, told the Houston Chronicle. “For these reasons, members of both parties have consistently rejected attempts to target energy producers with new taxes and fees.” (90 comments)