Friday, September 19, 2014

No reduction in the excise tax to offset value-added tax (VAT) tax

Price hikes likely on price-controlled items after VAT

Guardian Business Editor

Auto dealers and likely other businesses that deal in price-controlled items may hike their prices by more than the proposed value-added tax (VAT) rate of 7.5 percent proposed by the government in order to compensate for losses incurred by VAT compliance.

As Bahamians contemplate the impending institution of a value-added tax regime, the Bahamas Motor Dealers Association (BMDA) is sounding the alarm about the ability of price-controlled industries to remain profitable given an already onerous tax burden.

“There are some misconceptions that even the government has,” said Automotive Industrial Distributors (AID) Ltd. General Manager Jason Watson.

The government, according to Watson, is assuming that in the case of the BMDA, prices will be able to be kept at the same level, and as far as price-controlled items, that is so. However, for a company like AID that also sells items that are not price-controlled, the price of those items will go up in order to compensate for the losses on price-controlled items.

“That’s just an economic fact,” he said. “There’s just no getting around that.”

In fact, Watson said the likely price hike will be more than the VAT rate, because dealers will be compensating for losses due to inventory devaluation, gross profit declines and the costs of VAT compliance.

Fred Albury, president of the BMDA and owner of Executive Motors, talked about the “very negative” effect of recent changes to the government’s tax regime on the cost of doing business, even before adding VAT.

“It started in 2010. The business license fee increased from 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent. That’s a 50 percent increase when you translate that into dollars and cents,” Albury said.

He explained that there had been a revaluing of properties for property taxes – whereas he had been paying $20,000 a year for his parts and services building, the cost shot up to $75,000. He said that for a showroom, which had been $4,000, he is now paying $12,000 a year.

“All of that goes as an expense to the bottom line,” he said.

“If I was paying $200,000 a year in business license fees, that went to $300,000 (using the formula given above). And on top of that, we’re under price control, so we can’t up the prices to absorb these additional costs.”

“We have some of the same issues [as Albury and the other dealers], being under price control ourselves,” Watson explained. “Vehicles, parts, paints, accessories – it’s all under price control. Whenever we receive a price increase in our business costs, we’re not able to pass that on to the consumer.”

Watson admitted that potential layoffs were on the table in the long-term.

He said that even if sales remain constant, costs will increase, cash flow will decrease, gross profits will decrease because duty will be applied at a lower level in the cost structure. Still, he expects that sales will decrease. And he said that while business at AID is good now, and no layoffs are predicted in the near future, with no alterations in the governments plans, the current business model is “unsustainable.”

The two appeared on the ZNS economy-themed talk show “You And Your Money,” which airs at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday nights and is rebroadcast at 9 a.m. Fridays.

Watson talked numbers. Accounting software to be able to invoice VAT and file for returns is valued at $300,000, and loss of value on inventory and other matters means a loss of $1.4 million; it will cost his company $1.7 million to become VAT compliant.

Watson said that it will take him six months to be completely compliant, and Albury added that his company, Executive Motors, has more than 30,000 different part numbers that would have to be revalued individually in order to comply with the VAT regulations. Both men said it was impossible to be ready for VAT by January 2015. Albury admitted that he would have to seriously consider whether to remain in business if the VAT is to be implemented in the current iteration.

“Having it where the VAT is a line item, based on what you’re selling – that’s simple. I’m ready for that. But if they say it’s gotta be built into the pricing, I’ve gotta think twice about whether I can stay in business.”

The BMDA is part of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation, and through the chamber’s Coalition for Responsible Taxation (CRT) has expressed its concerns about the impact of VAT in addition to the government’s tax and fee structure. It is understood that on three occasions, State Minister for Finance Michael Halkitis has declined to meet with the BMDA representatives. BMDA members have instead met with Financial Secretary John Rolle and economist Simon Wilson of the Ministry of Finance.

“The Motor Dealers Association has attempted to get some meetings with [Minister Halkitis] but was unable to do so,” Albury confirmed.

“We’ve made it known that its going to have drastic negative effect on sales due to the fact that there’s going to be no reduction in the excise tax to offset the VAT tax,” he said. “The impact to the consumer is going to be tremendous [in terms of] increases.”

September 18, 2014