French president Emmanuel Macron’s decision to ease the wealth tax will receive a warm welcome from French millionaires.
However, the government should not expect immediate repatriation of off shored wealth.
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In France people with estates worth above €1.3m ($1.37m) are currently subject to wealth tax at rates varying from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent of net assets.
This generally unfriendly tax environment has been driving assets out of the country.
Interest in tax planning is high among the richest in the country, according to GlobalData research. Of 22 countries surveyed by GlobalData, only wealth managers in Hong Kong record stronger demand for tax advice.
Tax efficiencies are by far the main reason why millionaires resident in France decide to offshore some of their wealth.
Many have gone so far as to relocate to Belgium, the UK, and even Russia to reduce their tax bills.
In an effort to encourage people (and their wealth) to come home and support the French economy, in 2018 the wealth tax will cover only real estate, rather than the entire estate.
But while millionaires’ reaction to such a decision will undoubtedly be positive, it is unlikely to trigger a massive and immediate inflow of currently expatriated wealth.
When structuring estates to benefit from perks offered by different jurisdictions wealth managers execute plans aimed at the long term, taking into account more than just tax.
French governments have also fiddled with the country’s wealth tax more often than many would like.
In 2012 then-president Nicolas Sarkozy cut tax rates, but only a few months later his successor, Francois Hollande, increased them again.
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Now history seems to be repeating itself.
It took less than two weeks for Macron’s administration to propose an amendment to the 2018 budget to tax luxury yachts, cars, and precious metals.
Millionaires will still be better off than under previous rules, but they might feel as though someone is taking them on a roller coaster ride they did not sign up for.
In the end, the whole situation is likely to have the opposite effect to that hoped for by the government.
Political instability has historically been a bigger driver for offshoring wealth in emerging economies such as Russia and African countries, but it is still a factor in mature markets such as France.
The French government’s erratic behaviour will make the wealthy think twice before deciding to repatriate their assets to their home country, because for them there is nothing worse than uncertainty.
The only parties certain to benefit from the situation are wealth managers and tax advisers.