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Corporate Taxes Put Sting In UK Budget - Wealth Managers React

Editorial Staff

4 March 2021

Wealth managers reacted yesterday to UK finance minister (aka Chancellor of the Exchequer) Rishi Sunak's Budget measures that included a sharp hike in the corporate tax rate from 19 per cent to 25 per cent, beginning in 2023 - probably the most surprising measure. The UK has enjoyed some of the lowest corporate taxes among wealthy nations - albeit with relatively few allowances - and, as the US is on track to raise its rate to 28 per cent, the UK should remain the lowest in the G7 club of nations. Even so, the UK is less competitive than it was, business leaders warned. Economists estimate that each percentage rise in corporation tax will net the Treasury an extra £3 billion ($4.18 billion) annually, and go some way to plugging the big hole in national finances.

Sunak added a further £65 billion to government spending to take the total spend since the start of the pandemic to £407 billion, or 18 per cent of GDP. The Office for Budget Responsibility's downward revision of the deficit from £394 billion in November to £355 billion was welcome news.

Also welcome was no appetite (yet) to raise the rate of capital gains tax. But managers expect that higher tax bills for UK companies will lead to reduced dividends to shareholders. They are waiting with interest to see how this plays out for investors, both in the level of investors’ income and on valuations generally.

The mechanics of yesterday were laying out a ‘three-part plan’ to lead the country out of the pandemic and into recovery. Foremost were committments to protect jobs and businesses, and help the worst hit sectors such as hospitality and retail by extending furlough, grants, business rates and VAT reductions.

To the relief of the wealth sector, the Chancellor has no immediate need for a wealth tax and opted instead for measures that would stimulate growth through investment.

Managers were also relieved that there weren't the sharp teeth some had feared. “There was no mention of a wealth tax, no wholesale reform to the inheritance tax regime, no sign of the increases in capital gains tax that were thought inevitable and an extension to the SDLT holiday," Tim Snaith, partner at , also found the ‘super deduction’ notable. “The 130 per cent reduction in costs for companies that invest is quite unheard of for a UK government. It could boost capital expenditure and perhaps also lift growth more structurally over the longer term.”

There was no real news for private clients as the Chancellor stuck to his triple tax lock. "Although the freezing of personal allowances and higher-rate tax brackets at 2021/22 rates (£12,570 and £50,270) will increase the tax take," Rebecca Durrant, head of private clients at ’ chief economist George Lagarias said the budget showed a material shift in the UK’s economic landscape, where the UK economy was in a unique position in a “bout of global economic de-synchronisation.”

“On the one hand, it is en route to becoming the first G7 country to take advantage of vaccinations and turn the corner in returning to a post-COVID-19 “normality”. On the other, it is now facing a much grimmer economic landscape than in December 2019.

"Growth conditions are tepid and the economy might find itself countering the “pending” unemployment, assured job losses, which may not manifest until the furlough scheme ends in September. A confluence of post-lockdown rising demand and supply chain breakdowns could further burden the economy with transitory inflation, at least in 2021. This is also true of a “hard Brexit,” Lagarias said, which is putting additional pressure on sensitive industries and exports.

This could be further constrained by ballooning debt which may rise above 115 per cent of annual GDP in the next few years, he said.

In his view, the budget reflected the UK’s need for a quick rebound, with investing incentives such as the “super-deduction” and VAT cut extensions that would be balanced in the future by a higher corporation tax.

“From a broader perspective, what is important in this budget is the government’s push to decentralise the economy, both in geographical terms and in industry support terms. The scope is much broader than targeting the most afflicted industries or groups. This budget could be the beginning of a material shift in the UK’s economic landscape, a strategic goal for the post-Brexit economy.”

Coinciding with Wednesday's budget, the Chancellor raised the review of UK listings rules to make the City more competitive. The review was led by EU financial services commissioner, Lord Jonathan Hill, amid concern that the UK risks losing out to Amsterdam, New York and Hong Kong in attracting fast-growing technology firms and other knowledge businesses to grow and list here.

Sunak also announced the locations of eight new so-called freeports at East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames, and Teesside.