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UPDATE 5-France hits rich and business to slash deficit

by on September 28, 2012 3:08 pm BST
 

Fri Sep 28, 2012 11:08am EDT

* Budget aims to slash deficit to 3.0 pct/GDP in 2013

* Bulk of savings comes from tax on rich, business

* Economists say budget based on optimistic growth forecast

By Daniel Flynn and Leigh Thomas

PARIS, Sept 28 (Reuters) – Socialist President Francois
Hollande unveiled higher levies on business and a 75-percent tax
for the super-rich on Friday in a 2013 budget aimed at showing
France has the fiscal rigour to remain at the core of the euro
zone.

The package aims to recoup 30 billion euros ($39 billion)
for the public purse with a goal of narrowing the deficit to 3.0
percent of national output next year from 4.5 percent this year
– France’s toughest single belt-tightening in 30 years.

But the budget dismayed business and pro-reform lobbyists by
preferring tax hikes and a simple freeze of France’s high public
spending to attacking ministerial budgets as Spain did this week
in its battle to avoid an international bailout.

With record unemployment and a barrage of data pointing to
economic stagnation, there were also fears the deficit target
will slip as France falls short of the modest 0.8 percent
economic growth rate on which it is banking for next year.

“This is a fighting budget to get the country back on the
rails,” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said, adding that the
0.8 percent growth target was “realistic and ambitious”.

“It is a budget which aims to bring back confidence and to
break this spiral of debt that gets bigger and bigger.”

Hollande’s aim is to achieve the savings without hitting the
purchasing power of low-income families. But France’s main
employers’ group said the measures would backfire by weakening
the competitiveness of French industry.

“Its stated aim is to prepare the future. But the way it is
put together holds it to ransom by putting investment and
employment at a serious risk,” Medef President Laurence Parisot
said in a statement.

With public debt at a post-war record of 91 percent of the
economy, the budget is vital to France’s credibility not only
among euro zone partners but also in markets which for now are
allowing it to borrow at record-low yields around two percent.

The government said the budget was the first in a series of
steps to bring its deficit down to 0.3 percent of GDP by 2017 –
slightly missing an earlier target of a zero deficit by then.

France’s benchmark 3.0 percent 10-year bond
was steady, yielding 2.18 percent after the announcement but
some analysts remained sceptical.

“The ambitions that were flagged are very audacious,” said
Philippe Waechter at Natixis Asset Management. “I struggle to
see how we’ll find the growth needed in 2013 and afterwards.”

Of the total 30 billion euros of savings, around 20 billion
will come from tax increases on households and companies, with
tax rises already approved this year to contribute some 4
billion euros to revenues in 2013. The freeze on spending will
contribute around 10 billion euros.

EXODUS FEAR

To the dismay of business leaders who fear an exodus of top
talent, the government confirmed a temporary 75 percent
super-tax rate for earnings over one million euros and a new 45
percent band for revenues over 150,000 euros.

Together, those two measures are predicted to bring in
around half a billion euros. Higher tax rates on dividends and
other investments, plus cuts to existing tax breaks are seen
bringing in several billion more.

Jean-Paul Agon, chief executive of cosmetics giant L’Oreal,
warned in the run-up to the budget that the new super-tax, which
compares to a euro zone average top rate of 43 percent, will
make it harder to attract top executives.

Bernard Arnault, France’s richest man and chief executive of
luxury group LVMH, created a storm this month by
declaring he had applied for Belgian nationality – but stressed
he would continue to pay taxes in France.

Business will face measures including a cut in the amount of
loan interest which is tax-deductible and the cutting of an
existing tax break on capital gains from certain share sales –
moves worth around four billion and two billion euros each.

Four months after he defeated Nicolas Sarkozy, Hollande’s
approval ratings are in free-fall as many French feel he has
been slow to get to grips with the economic slow-down and
unemployment at a 10-year high and rising.

Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici defended next year’s
growth target on French radio. But, highlighting the bet on
growth underpinning the entire budget, he added that it was
achievable “if Europe steadies”.

Data on Friday confirmed France posted zero growth in the
second quarter, marking nine months of stagnation, as a pickup
in business investment and government spending was offset by a
worsening trade balance and sluggish consumer expenditure.

Despite a rise in wages, consumers – traditionally the motor
of France’s growth – increased their savings to 16.4 percent of
income from 16.0 percent a year earlier. In another setback,
other data showed consumer spending dropped 0.8 percent in
August.