Financial Transaction Tax in Focus

Terry Flanagan

The financial-transaction tax, reviled by market participants, isn’t going away.

That’s the view of GBST, an Australian-based provider of software and services to the financial sector.

There will be more financial-transaction taxes enacted in Europe on a country-by-country basis, with differing rules and rates across borders, predicted Dan Carpenter, GBST’s head of business development in Europe. Market participants can also expect delays in enactments, as regulators grapple with the complexities of the FTT, as well as exemptions, possibly for long-term investors such as pension funds and market makers in some instances.

France and Italy recently pushed through financial-transaction taxes, and some European lawmakers want to go one step further and enact a regional FTT. The idea has seems to have less support in the U.S., but in an increasingly global market, there are implications for U.S. investors who trade equities and derivatives across borders.

In the simplest sense, the FTT was introduced to generate tax revenue, Carpenter said at a media briefing in New York on Tuesday. Its advocates, including politicians, regulators, tax authorities, the general public, and some fund managers, also believe the tax lowers market risk by reducing unnecessary trading and improving trading practices, and it bolsters accountability and transparency.

Opponents of the FTT span financial-market constituencies: institutional brokers, high-frequency traders, fixed-income traders, custodians, asset managers, and pension funds. Concerns include reduced trading volume and revenue, less market liquidity, and costs passed on to end-user investors.

Recently enacted FTTs such as France’s are generating less revenue than projected, but even so, there’s no indication that a rescinding is on the table as an option. “Politicians cannot totally backtrack,” Carpenter said.

For now, with the FTT still new or developing, there’s a cat-and-mouse game going on in Europe: market participants are looking for ways to continue trading and skirt the rule, while rule makers are seeking to close loopholes to prevent avoidance. “The financial industry is very good at finding a way around incurring the tax,” Carpenter said.

U.S. investors can be ensnared in the FTT even without a domestic tax, if they trade American Depositary Receipts on European stocks. That’s a significant point of contention across markets, Carpenter noted, as the legal question from a U.S. perspective is “do you have the right to impose a tax on our instrument?”

GBST’s Syn~FTT product is designed as a standalone product for trading and investing firms to manage FTT compliance across different regulatory regimes. The company has signed Raymond James as a client and plans to ramp up its U.S. business.

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