It is that time of the year again when Amazon's bean counters put into words a tale of intrigue and daring: the latest set Profit & Loss accounts for the UK Services subsidary. Spoiler: tax remains an issue.
The etail-cum-cloud giant has filed a 15.6 per cent hike in revenue for calendar 2018 to £2.3bn – the numbers are available at UK biz repository Companies House, here.
Profits before tax climbed too, reaching £75.4m, up from £72.4m for 2017. It would seem that while graphene-thin margins might be hurting the UK high street, Amazon is still able to keep head honcho Jeff Bezos in rockets and cargo pants.
The average headcount for UK employees recorded by Amazon UK Services numbered 22,073 in 2018, up from 19,749 the previous year.
Having trousered a paltry £1.7m in tax revenue for 2017, the UK's tax collector, HMRC, would have been forgiven for expecting a little more cash from that increase in profits.
We can almost hear the chortling of Amazon's accountants from our glass cages in Vulture Central as this year's figures revealed that the company has actually managed to pay less tax on those profits – down to £1m for 2018.
Of course, there is more to the story: Amazon UK noted the tax bill for 2018 was actually a hair under £14m, but was able to drop £13m of that into a bucket marked "deferred tax". It did the same trick last year, tossing £3m into the same bucket.
Deferred tax, according to the policies in Amazon's statement, "arises from timing differences that are differences between taxable profits and total comprehensive income as stated in the financial statements".
Not that it seemingly matters, but Amazon also noted that the UK rate of corporation tax will be dropping from 19 per cent to 17 per cent for the year beginning 1 April 2020, and that "any deferred tax assets and liabilities existing at 31 December 2018 reflect this rate change".
So now you know.
Still, at the least the UK government's coffers will squeeze something out of the company. Despite pre-tax profits in the US reaching a bonus-busting $11.2bn, stateside taxpayers actually ended up paying the retailer $129m thanks to a tax rebate.
Make Amazon Great Again, no?
We contacted UK MP Margaret Hodge, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Responsible Tax, to get her take on things, but we imagine she's bit a busy at the moment.
Amazon were quick to respond to our query with a link to its own, unsurprisingly positive, view on the company's economic impact in the UK. In it, the online giant makes much of the cost-savings and benefits it has brought to British businesses and lawmakers in 2018.
The PR machine also claimed Amazon – from all of its UK activities, not solely the services biz – generated a total of £10.89bn in revenue in Britain last year, on which direct taxation accounted for £220m. It went on to state that the largest portion of that was actually employer taxes.
"Indirect taxes", including VAT and taxes paid by employees through PAYE, came to £573m, according to the giant.
Getting a breakdown of those figures is tricky since several tentacles, including the likes of AWS, are now incorporated in Luxembourg while still enjoying a substantial UK presence.
Still, you never know. Bezos & co might suddenly fling their hands up the air and proclaim: "This cannot go on! We must pay more tax!"
Don't hold your breath. ®