VAT & The Construction Industry in GCC

At the beginning 2018 United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia introduced Value Added Tax (VAT) of 5% on most purchases across various sectors. There have been speculations on how VAT would impact the economy as a whole, the growth of different industries, future investments and the employment.

According to the UAE Government website, Value Added Tax or VAT is a tax on the consumption or use of goods and services levied at each point of sale. VAT is a form of indirect tax and is used in more than 180 countries around the world. The end-consumer ultimately bears the cost. Businesses collect and account for the tax on behalf of the government.

It continues by stating, businesses will be responsible for carefully documenting their business income, costs and associated VAT charges.

Registered businesses and traders will charge VAT to all of their customers at the prevailing rate and incur VAT on goods/services that they buy from suppliers. The difference between these sums is reclaimed or paid to the government.

In this article, we will review the impact of VAT on different industries in the region, we will then look into its impact on the construction sector in the region.

Why do countries introduce VAT?

According to World Bank, empirical studies have shown the interlinks between the VAT performance of a country and its level of development.   The revenue gains from VAT are likely to be higher in an economy with higher level of per capita income, lower share of agriculture, and higher level of literacy.  VAT proves to be an efficient tool for revenue collection; its performance, therefore, has direct impact on fiscal mobilization, macroeconomic stability, and development.

Compared with alternatives in indirect taxation, the VAT has more revenue potential:  it is generally more broad-based and entails a trail of invoices that helps improve tax compliance and enforcement.

According to The National, The introduction of value added tax had a positive impact on economic growth and development in the GCC in its year of implementation, a report said, as the UAE and Saudi Arabia come up on its first anniversary and Bahrain prepares to roll out the levy in 2019.

Once implemented, a GCC-wide VAT could generate revenues of between 1.5 per cent and 3 per cent of the six-country economic bloc’s total non-oil gross domestic product from next year, the report from the Federation of GCC Chambers said, citing earlier figures from the International Monetary Fund.

Impact of VAT in the United Arab Emirates

Most countries have introduced VAT, and it has proven to have a positive impact on the economy. According to a study conducted by Entrepreneur Middle East, here are some of the benefits of VAT in the UAE:

  1. Boost to government coffers
    The new tax is expected to bring a significant new revenue stream to the UAE government. According to His Excellency Younis Al Khouri, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Finance, the measure is expected to raise around AED 10bn to AED 12bn in the first year of implementation alone. This revenue will go into creating a more stable economy, which can’t help but have a positive knock-on effect on local businesses.
  2. Improved infrastructure
    Not only will the revenue help to stabilize the economy, but it will improve the country’s infrastructure, making it easier and less expensive to do business in the UAE. Investment in infrastructure often has a significant effect on economic development because of multiplier effects, which means that for every AED 1 invested the impact on GDP is even higher. What’s more, value-creating tax strategies can give you a competitive advantage compared to other countries in the region, although in the UAE’s case this will be neutralized by the fact that all six GCC countries will eventually implement the same measure.
  3. Non-financial benefits
    As demonstrated by a number of successful global implementations, tax regulation can bring many non-financial benefits to an economy. The most important of these is improved liability management. The introduction of taxes, particularly VAT, can play an important role in enhancing government accountability and democracy. Official taxation records, properly managed, result in faster and more informed decision-making, and reduce the incidence of civil fraud, corruption and waste.

    Impact of VAT on the construction sector – regionally

    According to an Article on Khaleej Times about the impact of VAT on the construction sector in the UAE,” The UAE’s construction industry has not been impacted by the recent introduction of 5 per cent value-added tax (VAT) and it will witness over 10 per cent expansion in 2018, the second-fastest growth rate in the world, according to industry executives and research reports.

    The industry executives believe that Expo 2020 is not the end for the construction sector. Rather they are pinning hopes on multi-year plans such as Vision 2021 which would drive the industry in the post-Expo 2020 era.

    “I see good potential for the construction sector. I would say VAT has not impacted us that much; however, there is a pressure on cash flow but people are getting used to it,” said Ravi Murthy, chief financial officer, Arabtec Construction”

    As for the real estate sectors, industry leaders have a similar feedback. “Matthew Bate, CEO, Engel & Volkers, told Khaleej Times that there was no impact of VAT and first quarter of 2018 was its biggest operating quarter during the last three years.

    “VAT didn’t really have any impact because five per cent is negligible, considering some of the rates that exist in a lot of economies. With the way VAT works with input and out taxes, it has got very little effect on developers. I think VAT probably if affects anything is it is from cash flow position. But if you got a nice sustainable business, then VAT has little impact,” he said.

    Bates noted that “the government is behind a lot of construction activity and obviously Expo 2020 is a major factor. But it is a lot beyond that. I don’t’ think any developer or industry is focusing feasibility studies and returns on investments are just based on 2020. It is the whole 2021 plan, and beyond that as well.”

    Future of construction sector and VAT

    If there is one message for businesses to take from the implementation of VAT in 2018 is that a conservative approach to VAT collection and recovery is advisable.

    While the market is getting used to the concept of VAT, a conservative and risk-averse approach to filing VAT returns seems likely to be the most cost-effective in the long run. For areas of ambiguity it is vital that businesses have a clear paper trail to support any decisions which may be examined during any audit.

    For the construction industry the long project timelines, complex supply chains and phased payment programmes are all compounding the challenges of adjusting to the new tax regime. The most crucial issues for the businesses represented revolved around getting clarity on exactly when they should be collecting and reclaiming VAT.

    Processes to narrow the gap between raising invoices and actual payment are much needed in order to prevent businesses having to carry the VAT burden for an unreasonable period. As the four remaining GCC states go live with their VAT systems in the coming years, demand for clear and consistent processes across the region will grow.

    Manitowoc posts positive results

    Crane manufacturer Manitowoc reported full-year orders for 2018 of $1,910.7 million – a three percent increase on 2017’s figure. Manitowoc also reported its full-year revenue for 2018 increased by 17 per cent year-over-year (YOY), from $1,581.3 million in 2017 to $1,846.8 million in 2018.Adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) was $116.2 million, and 6.3 percent of net sales.

    The company’s 2018 results were boosted by its fourth quarter figures, where net sales were $515.3 million versus $481.5 million in the comparable period in 2017. Manitowoc primarily attributed the YOY increase to improved demand in the Americas, driven by higher shipments of cranes for the commercial construction and energy end markets – although this was partially offset by lower demand in the Benelux countries and the Middle-East, coupled with unfavorable changes in foreign currency exchange rates.

    “The Manitowoc team again delivered excellent results in the fourth quarter, marking the seventh consecutive quarter of year-over-year adjusted EBITDA percentage improvement,” commented Barry Pennypacker, Manitowoc president and chief executive officer.

    Fourth-quarter orders, however, of $485.7 million for 2018 decreased 22 percent from the comparable period in 2017. Backlog totalled $670.6 million at 31 December 2018, an increase of 11 percent, from the prior year ending backlog of $606.6 million.

    Looking ahead to 2019, Manitowoc said it expected revenue to increase from approximately $1.85 billion to $1.95 billion and for adjusted EBITDA to increase from approximately $125 million to $145 million. “Our results and outlook demonstrate how our strategic priorities are delivering ever-improving results,” Pennypacker added. “We will continue to provide our customers with the type of cranes they need to increase their return on invested capital. This will be evident with our new product introductions at the Bauma trade show in April 2019.”