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Big boon for S'pore businesses with operations in US

US companies will reassess foreign ops but an exodus of US firms out of Singapore unlikely

A decision by the US Senate to approve a tax bill that cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent will make a big difference to Singapore companies with investments there.


THE cut in the United States' headline corporate tax rate is a big boon to Singapore companies operating there, but its impact on inbound investment flows remains to be seen, analysts say.

A decision by the US Senate to approve a tax bill that cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent will make a big difference to Singapore companies with investments there, especially as Singapore does not have a tax treaty with the US, noted Withers KhattarWong partner Eric Roose.

Singapore firms The Business Times spoke to agreed with this assessment. ST Engineering spokeswoman Lina Poa said: "The US corporate tax rate cut to 21 per cent from 35 per cent will benefit ST Engineering as our US subsidiaries contribute a significant share of our total group revenue."

The US business accounted for 23 per cent of ST Engineering's S$6.68 billion revenue in 2016.

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"Any investments that we make are evaluated on their strategic fit and other factors including after-tax returns. We welcome the US tax overhaul and will continue to evaluate investment opportunities that fit our business strategy," Ms Poa added.

Mapletree Investments told The Business Times: "This is a positive development on reduction of corporate tax rate and we are still studying the other changes in detail."

Centurion Corp chief executive Kong Chee Min added: "For Centurion, investment decisions are driven by many considerations such as demand-supply dynamics, availability of quality assets that meet investment criteria, etc."

As part of the firm's strategy for sustainable growth, it will continue to selectively look for investment opportunities in the US and other key education hubs for student accommodation, he added.

But while the tax cut could boost investment flows into the US, the question for Singapore is whether US companies might now reevaluate their investments here.

After all, as Mr Roose noted, the difference between the US and Singapore's corporate tax rates is now just 4 percentage points.

"The general effect overall will be that US companies will do more things in the US and bring their profits back. Companies will begin to reassess their global structures and whether they really need foreign operations, or as much as they have now," he said.

"They will likely study whether the cost of operating in that country is still offset by the tax savings now."

However, he added that there is unlikely to be an exodus of US companies out of Singapore, as the Republic is the Asian headquarters for many.

"The options for Asian headquarters today is a fight between Hong Kong and Singapore, and it comes down more and more to where people want to live, and increasingly US companies would rather have their headquarters in Singapore. So I think Singapore will continue to be important operationally."

Mizuho Bank senior economist Vishnu Varathan added that companies will take into account more than just tax rates when deciding whether to maintain, increase or decrease investments in a particular country.

"There's speculation on how the US tax cut will impact where US companies operate, but that's not just a function of tax. And many US firms are already well established here, with a supply chain across Asean and the Asean market is here, so the impact will not be immediate."

DBS Group Research chief economist Taimur Baig said in a report on Thursday that the US tax cut is a bigger risk for Europe and Latin America than Asia.

"MNCs that were, on the margin, considering offshoring some production may pause to take advantage of the lower domestic rates, but the factors of production that are Asia-oriented, especially those related to the electronics supply chain, are very unlikely to move back to the US, in our view. The labour cost advantages, economies of scale, and the component ecosystem is well engrained in Asia, with little risk of foreign direct investment diversion to the US."

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