January 27, 2023

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Exceptional tax on oil tankers: Bercy disputes the figures of economists


Posted Dec 9 2022 at 10:05

The disagreement persists between Bercy and economists. The bone of contention? The “temporary solidarity contribution”, this tax on the “superprofits” made by oil groups, which was decided at European level and transcribed into the budget for 2023. In November, the very serious Institute of Public Policies (IPP) quantified the return to 6 or 7 billion euros, while the Minister of the Economy had announced in the media receipts of … 200 million for France.

The publication of the IPP had caused trouble. Hostile to any new levy, was Bruno Le Maire seeking to minimize the scope of this tax which consists of deducting 33% of profits from oil activities when they exceed the 2018-2021 average by 20%? When questioned, Bercy declares that it relied on the amounts mentioned by the main contributor, TotalEnergies. Heard in September by deputies, his boss had indicated that French refineries would generate around 600 million euros in profits in 2022, after years of losses.

New data from INSEE

With the publication, on 30 November, of Insee’s national accounts data for the third quarter, the PPI has just updated its figures. The yield from the tax, which essentially relates to refining in France, would now be between 1.15 billion and 3.9 billion euros. “This updating of the national branch accounts reduces the value of production in the coking-refining sector by between 15 and 20% for the second and third quarters of 2022”, explains Laurent Bach, associate at the IPP and professor at Essec. Since costs have changed little, the INSEE revision approximately halves the branch’s profits over these two quarters.

“The second quarter marks a high point in terms of price trends and turnover for companies in the energy sector”, already underlined the economists of Deloitte Société d’Avocats, before the new figures from the Insee. They reconstituted for 2022 the accounting results per French unit of 24 refining companies. Result: the revenue from the contribution would fluctuate between 1 billion and 2.3 billion, according to them. A figure quite close to the PPI and, incidentally, that of the German government, which has announced that it expects to recover between 1 and 3 billion euros.

Total and Esso main contributors

Bercy, however, maintains that its forecasts are closest to reality. Bruno Le Maire’s entourage points to “fairly strong simplifying assumptions made by the IPP” and recalls that “if the profits made worldwide by the groups concerned are significant, only a fraction is made in France and enters the scope of the contribution”.

All stakeholders recognize a possible margin of error in 2022. In the questionnaire given to parliamentarians, TotalEnergies was content to say that it anticipated a “positive tax result”. “It is not possible for us to communicate an estimate, insofar as the French tax result (which includes the tax results of more than 200 entities) is sensitive to many particularly volatile parameters (…)”, can we read. Including the strikes that paralyzed several sites in the fall.

Fuel distribution

Another interesting element of his document: the turnover achieved in France. It amounted to 45 billion dollars in 2019, 34 billion in 2020. However, conversely, the reconstituted pre-tax accounting result for France (this data not being included in the group’s accounts) is it rose from 147 million in 2019 to 1.1 billion in 2020.

“In our sector of activity, turnover is not a relevant indicator of profitability. In fact, the turnover recognized in France corresponds to that of our fuel, gas, electricity and other refined products distribution activities to our end customers. However, this sector has a low, even negative profitability, ”insists the group.

We will have to wait for the conclusions of the mission on corporate taxation, led by the chairman of the Assembly’s Finance Committee, Eric Coquerel (LFI), and the budget rapporteur, MP Jean-René Cazeneuve (Renaissance), to clarify this complex debate. The budget for 2023 will have been adopted, despite this uncertainty.