Germany Ramps Up Transaction Tax Pressure

Terry Flanagan

Germany and France are among a group of nine countries requesting plans to have a Financial Transaction Tax put in place across the European Union by July.

In a joint letter to the Danish EU presidency yesterday, the finance ministers from the nine countries have demanded a “rapid outcome” to the process, according to German daily newspaper Der Spiegel.

One of the new focuses of the proposed Financial Transaction Tax is to curb high-frequency trading across European exchanges.

Late last year, the European Commission released details about plans to introduce a continent-wide Financial Transaction Tax – envisaged to come into effect in January 2014 – to make the financial sector pay for the global financial crisis.

Computerized algorithms have been blamed by critics for making the markets more volatile in recent times but proponents of high-frequency trading say that it increases liquidity. And some in the industry believe that the proposed tax, well intentioned though it may be, may have unintended consequences for institutional investors such as pension funds.

“If the proposal was approved, pension funds, IORPs [Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision] and companies managing assets on their behalf would be deeply affected by this tax,” said Patrick Burke, chairman of the European Federation for Retirement Provision.

“The EFRP understands the reasons underlying the proposal for a Financial Transaction Tax. However, the consequent increase of costs would be born by beneficiaries, in terms of reduced benefits: current and future pensioners would be requested to pay even more of the costs of this financial crisis, which has already affected their income.”

The Federation of European Securities Exchanges, which represents 46 exchanges in 30 countries, says high-frequency trading makes a positive contribution to market quality; nonetheless, it is also vital to deal with the concerns surrounding high-frequency trading activity and its effect on market safety and integrity. FESE says recent research conducted on the subject of high-frequency trading and market efficiency found that, to date, there is no direct evidence that HFT trading has increased volatility and that its members have taken provisions to foresee any potential problems.

The nine ministers who submitted the new proposal for the Financial Transaction Tax include German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, his French counterpart Francois Baroin and the Italian prime minister Mario Monti, who is also his country’s finance minister.

Margrethe Vestager, the finance minister of Denmark, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said: “In light of the request from a number of countries we have accelerated the work [on the Financial Transaction Tax].”

The original European Commission proposal last year was for a 0.1% tax on all share transactions and 0.01% levy on derivatives trades that could generate up to €57bn annually. In all likelihood, this would seriously curtail most high-frequency strategies in their current form as the levy would wipe out most, if not all, of the margin made by microsecond trading.

The 27 EU finance and economic ministers are this week meeting to discuss the latest proposals although the U.K. has said that it will veto any EU-wide transaction tax, which requires unanimity to become law among the whole 27-nation bloc. Sweden, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland and Malta also oppose the move but there may be enough of the larger member states in agreement to push the proposals through via qualified majority rule.

Given Britain’s refusal to back any Financial Transaction Tax plan, one idea on the table is to introduce a stamp duty on shares, much the same as is already in operation in the U.K..

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