How tax incentives affect decisions to invest in developing countries
The authors contend that in evaluating and designing investment incentives in developing economies, analysts should consider their effect on: the marginal effective tax rate (METR). Even simple tax incentives can perversely affect the METR. Many schemes have relatively generous write-offs to begin with, so generous that a negative marginal effective tax rate is not uncommon. In these circumstances, tax rate reductions (including tax holidays) can discourage investment. Investment tax credits are more likely to be effective. Loss firms. Incentives that do not have generous loss-offsetting or refundability provisions willbe of limited use to firms likely to suffer losses (including small growing firms and firms in risky environments). Cash flows. Incentives that improve firms'cash flows may be more effective than those that do not. Refundability may be important here. Simply adopting cash-flow costing principles with refundability may be more effective than reducing tax rates. Foreign-owned firms. If the value of a tax incentive is fully offset by reduced credits for foreign taxes, the incentive effect will probably be minimal. Capital allocation among assets. Some measures favor short- over long-lived capital, machinery over inventory, some industries over others. Incentives that encourage investment selectively may cause distortions in the way capital is allocated. Other factors to be considered in designing tax incentives: inflation, which is typically high in developing economies. Incentives should offset the effects of inflation; tax evasion, a common problem in developing countries; technology transfer; the fulfillment of social, environmental, and regional non-economic objectives; the effects on firms'organization (do the incentives encourage mergers, takeovers, or bankruptcy?)
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