No. 19: Can European Banks’ Country-by-Country Reports Reveal Profit Shifting? An Analysis of the Information Content of EU Banks’ Disclosures

Abstract

We create a novel database of hand-collected information from the country-by-country reports (CbCRs) of more than 100 multinational bank groups headquartered in the EU for 2014-2016. We compare this new dataset with information from Orbis and Bank Focus to assess in how far the new disclosure obligation increased transparency on banks’ tax avoidance behavior. Our descriptive analysis shows that CbCRs uncover a large fraction of worldwide profits and real activities in terms of employees of EU bank groups, especially in tax havens. We also document a striking disconnect between reported profits and real activity, noting considerable heterogeneity between different tax havens and bank groups from different headquarter countries. Regression analysis based on CbCR data and Bank Focus data leads us to expect a tax semi-elasticity of banks’ reported profits of about -4.6. In this regard, CbCRs are indicative of a more pronounced tax sensitivity than conventional databases suggest. However, the lack of important economic variables (total assets and staff cost) impedes an exact estimation of banks’ profit shifting based on CbCR data alone and with standard methods. These insights are especially relevant in the context of the ongoing political discussions whether to introduce a public CbCR for all large multinational firms in the EU.

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Participating Institutions

TRR 266‘s main locations are Paderborn University (Coordinating University), HU Berlin, and University of Mannheim. All three locations have been centers for accounting and tax research for many years. They are joined by researchers from LMU Munich, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, European School of Management and Technology in Berlin and Goethe University Frankfurt who share the same research agenda.