On this edition
Join us for our first conference, Tuesday, February 23, from 8:30am to 11:30am at the Houston Intercontinental Hotel and learn about managing opportunities and challenges in the global supply chain. With governments around the world scrutinizing cross-border transactions more closely than ever, the price of getting supply chain structuring and pricing wrong has risen exponentially. Intended for in-house tax, legal, customs and supply chain personnel and their advisors, learning objectives for participants include insight, ideas and solutions for addressing emerging issues and current trends in the trade laws, regulations, policy and practices of the U.S. and its trading partners affecting multinational enterprises’ global supply chain.
CPE (TX): 3 hours
CLE (TX): 3 hours (1 hour ethics credit)
Cost: $125 (Register before February 1 using code ERLYBD and receive 15% off)
Welcome to 2010. This year promises to bring interesting developments on the U.S. legislative agenda, particularly with respect to international “tax reform.” Case in point, two bills – one each in the House and Senate – could have serious implications for companies with a U.S. taxable presence. Here are three issues which we believe will be significant in the next calendar year and strategies for addressing them proactively.
- Global increase in transfer pricing audits – In 2009 the IRS hired scores of additional agents, particularly international examiners and economists, with the intention of expanding audits of large and mid-size corporate taxpayers – particularly those in the middle-market. The U.S. was not alone. Around the world, tax authorities increased their numbers of cross-border examiners in 2009 and beyond. Of the countries with the most aggressive additions of audit related personnel, key U.S.-trading partners Brazil, Mexico and China have signaled an increase in transfer pricing audits in the coming year. Multinational enterprises must anticipate that IRS initial documentation requests will include a request for transfer pricing documentation and be prepared to respond to such requests within 30 days of the request. Other countries will have similar, if not, shorter response times. Moreover, failing to respond in many cases is tantamount to being non-responsive. The days of “just-in-time” transfer pricing documentation are over.
- Intellectual property and cost-sharing – On December 31, 2008, the U.S. Treasury released the new temporary cost-sharing regulations under Treas. Reg. §1.482-7T. The Temporary Treasury Regulations are hardly taxpayer-friendly and represent the increased scrutiny U.S. multinationals will face with respect to arrangements to share costs and the global structuring and alignment of intellectual property portfolios going-forward. In order to “grandfather” cost-sharing arrangements in place prior to the January 5, 2009 effective date, taxpayers had until July 6, 2009 to conform their existing cost-sharing arrangements to the requirements contained in the new temporary regulations with certain adaptations. The key for U.S. multinationals in 2010 is to remain vigilant with respect to existing cost-sharing arrangements and events that may trigger an arrangement – particularly important as M&A deal flow likely increases during the coming year in response to a (hopefully) reviving economy.
- Codification of Economic Substance – The proposed bill codifying the Economic Substance Doctrine is still alive in the House and will likely find its way into law sometime in 2010 – either in the form of the ultimately enacted healthcare bill or in another piece of legislation. U.S. taxpayers must critically examine the transaction structuring and planning which has provided tax benefits and be prepared to produce documentation and other evidence showing the non-tax business purpose justifying the underlying transaction and attendant structuring.
The stakes are rising for multinational enterprises as the world is getting smaller and tax authorities are sharing information at unprecedented levels. Thus, the best defense is a well-crafted offense that is integrated contemporaneously with acquisitions, divestitures and/or restructurings. The days of operational autonomy for multinational enterprises are over.
Part of our continuing series examining the potential ramifications of IFRS on U.S. multinationals.
As we noted last week, meaningful financial statement reform cannot be the result of knee-jerk legislation and/or influence-peddling by a Congress that – at best – has only a modicum of understanding of the challenges facing U.S.-based businesses. Similarly, standard-setting bodies divorced from in-the-trenches corporate accounting, tax and legal professionals and their advisors are also not capable of championing meaningful financial statement reform.
With the U.S. converging with IASB and IFRS, the point may seem moot. It’s not. FASB has adopted an aggressive timetable for convergence. However, it has also indicated that convergence does not mean agreement. Thus, differences between U.S. GAAP and IFRS will continue to exist. If the U.S. seeks convergence with IFRS it is crucial for FASB to demonstrate an understanding of the impact of both in-place and proposed standards on the day-to-day legal and tax-related considerations of U.S. companies. Case in point: FIN 48.
It is interesting that accounting for tax-benefits and related contingencies has one set of standards and yet other contingencies – which are very often more relevant to financial statement end-users – are left to be accounted for under SFAS 5, the old “probable and estimable” standard that rarely, if ever, gets triggered. Pending litigation, environmental contingencies, FCPA investigations, employment disputes and a whole host of other uncertainties are in all likelihood far more relevant to potential investors than uncertain tax positions relating to R&D credits and potential NOLs. However, these items are generally not contained in the financial statements or, at best, are mentioned in vague terms.
Adoption of IFRS in the U.S. may or may not resolve the foregoing dichotomy. There is no IAS equivalent of FIN 48. The closest standard is provided by IAS 37 (Provisions, Contingent Liabilities and Contingent Assets) which employs a one-step approach to recognizing a provision when: 1) An enterprise has a present obligation as a result of a past event, 2) It is probable that an outflow of resources embodying economic benefits will be required to settle the obligation, and 3) A reliable estimate can be made of the amount of the obligation. The term “probable” is defined in IAS 37 as “more likely than not.” If these conditions are not met, no provision is recognized. This standard provides no greater clarity and, if anything, would lead to less disclosure as opposed to greater transparency.
FASB must be focused on the needs of the end user – the analyst community and accredited investors – and taking steps to increase accessibility and readability by lay people, not creating additional standards with no teeth and promulgating divergent standards for different types of liabilities (e.g., income taxes versus other contingencies). If, as FASB has contended for some time now, the balance sheet is the Holy Grail of financial reporting, it seems wrong-headed to have inapposite standards for recording liabilities.
Moreover, the fact that end users have increasingly relied on non-GAAP measures, (e.g., EBITDA, EBIT, ROCE) in analyzing financial statements suggests that the information set forth in financial statements is not sufficient on a standalone basis to facilitate analysts’ review and/or to make investment decisions. This is important as it is the foundation of U.S. financial reporting and raises many questions, chiefly: Why have end-users – especially the investment community – been left out of the standard-setting process? Relying on academics and bureaucrats for financial statement reform is a terrible idea.
The Financial Accounting Foundation and the FASB need to implement some aggressive change management practices and listen to their constituents – not just the U.S. Congress—with respect to financial statement reform.
IFRS is not a panacea. A return to principles-based reporting is a step backwards at a time when the U.S. needs to march forward. Balance and common sense must return. The amount of time and resources corporations must devote to reporting must enter into the equation, lest there be more people accounting for a transaction than transacting businesses on behalf of an issuer. When it takes more lawyers and accountants to report the business than there are resources transacting business the train has come off the tracks.
FASB, We Have a Problem: Why a principles-based accounting standard is the wrong answer for the U.S.Posted December 9th, 2009 by admin | Tags: accounting accounting standards capital markets Congress enterprise risk management FASB financial reporting financial statement IASB IFRS tax IFRS
This blog is a continuation of our a series examining the potential ramifications of IFRS adoption for transfer pricing by U.S. multinationals.
Given that we are in the middle of the most devastating financial crisis since the Great Depression when there has been a clarion call of epic proportions for greater transparency and more usable financial statement information, why FASB is embracing IFRS – a principles-based set of standards, as opposed to continuing to evolve the U.S. GAAP rules-based system – is beyond belief. Those of us who have been practicing for more than two decades remember the principles-based approach under U.S. GAAP that, with pressure from Congress, the SEC and investors, became rules-based over the past two decades.
Based on the teachings from recent CPE seminars I have attended in the last two weeks, it seems that the accounting standard-setting bodies have run amok. Consider the proposal on lease accounting. Under IFRS and revised U.S. GAAP, the expectation is that operating leases will be eliminated. As a result, lessees will have to capitalize the asset and amortize or depreciate that asset; details to follow later. Conceptually this seems odd as in many instances the lessor clearly retains title to the property and, in the case of commercial real estate, has no intention of conveying same to the lessee. Put differently, the lessor is not necessarily providing financing to the lessee.
Alternatively, consider commercial real estate leases – typically operating leases – where the lessee has a right to occupy the premises owned by the landlord. Now, consider the implications of capitalizing these leases and treating the lessee as having an ownership interest in the property – which in theory implies that the transaction is a form of financing. In point of fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The economic reality, accounting notwithstanding, is that the lessee has an occupancy right to the premises provided payments and lease terms are satisfied. So, how could this be a capitalized asset?
Add on the tax implications of such arrangements, as it is unlikely there will be a basis for arguing that the lessee has a depreciable asset, aside from leasehold improvements. Thus, it seems likely that there will be even more book/tax differences to account for – which adds increased complexity to an already overly complex set of provisions. How does this change help users of the financial statements? It seems that there will be more people required to account for transactions than there are generating revenue and transacting business.
Meaningful financial statement reform must be based on the needs of the end user. The capital markets won’t recover until investors are confident in the information they are receiving. Until balance and incremental change return to the standard-setting process the capital markets will likely remain tepid at best. Unlike the Pirate Code, accounting standards in the U.S. cannot be “more guidelines than actual rules.” FASB needs to rethink the wisdom of moving the U.S. to a principles-based set of standards given the current economic climate and the needs of U.S. businesses and their investors particularly in view of the fact that we have already been down this road.
While the FASB and the IASB have still not achieved convergence between U.S. GAAP and IFRS, recent statements by both Boards have embraced an aggressive timetable to achieve convergence by 2011. Thus, the question does not seem to be if the U.S. will adopt IFRS, but rather when. Adoption of IFRS by the U.S. has far-reaching implications for all facets of financial reporting as well as tax planning and compliance by American companies. This blog is the first in a series examining the potential ramifications of IFRS adoption for transfer pricing by U.S. multinationals.
The so-called Holy Grail of transfer pricing has long been the comparable uncontrolled price (or transaction). The elusive publicly reported transaction between third parties which nearly perfectly matches the facts and circumstances of the related group transaction seldom exists. As such, taxpayers around the world most often rely on a range of results derived from uncontrolled parties – known as comparables – as the basis for determining whether or not the results of the transaction under review satisfy the arm’s length standard. The reference companies selected for comparability need not only meet certain functional and operational criteria in order to be comparable (e.g., functions performed, assets employed, risks borne), but financial standards as well. Differences between revenue, expense, asset, liability and equity treatment between IFRS and U.S. GAAP are significant. In the short-term there may be difficulty establishing comparability between the financial data of companies reporting under IFRS versus those reporting under U.S. GAAP. While the IRS requires U.S. GAAP to be used by all U.S. taxpayers if the comparable companies under consideration are non-U.S. companies traded on foreign stock exchanges the same rules do not apply. As can be seen from the example below, a small difference in the manner in which cost is reported (e.g., above or below the operating income line) can have a major impact on the ultimate result.
Mark-up on Total Cost
For U.S. taxpayers examining the results of potentially comparable companies from around the world this development means a tremendous amount of extra effort – either the taxpayers must reconcile the financial statements of all potential comparables back to U.S. GAAP in order to perform the analysis or the taxpayer must find and use only those companies who report their results under U.S. GAAP. Ultimately both choices are poor and will lead to less accurate and complete analyses. It remains to be seen to what extent IFRS and U.S. GAAP will impact comparability for transfer pricing purposes and how the lack of convergence will affect U.S.-based multinationals. If recent trends associated with companies adopting IFRS hold, it is likely that net income under IFRS will likely exceed the amount reported under other comprehensive bases of accounting. Given all of these factors, it is likely that – for the foreseeable future – transfer pricing will need to start with local country GAAP reporting rather than IFRS.
In the preliminary edition of its Economic Outlook No. 86
From the report:
“Most taxes have adverse effects on economic performance by distorting incentives to work, save and invest. Raising taxes therefore could be costly. Indeed, GDP could fall by 1 to 1.5% if the overall tax/income ratio were increased to provide revenue equal to 2% of GDP (OECD, 2003). A rise in the tax ratio would be particularly harmful if it was concentrated on corporate or labour income taxes; increasing indirect taxes and taxes on immovable property would be much less costly. In particular, the estimates in Arnold (2008) suggest that the economic cost of raising government revenue by increasing taxes on labour income could be up to five times higher than that from raising the same amount of revenue from higher indirect taxes.”
Raising a corporate tax rate that is already the second highest among the G20 will push more companies – and therefore jobs – out of the U.S. At the very time that unemployment is reaching new highs in America, the tax policy put forth by Congress to pay for health care reform is forcing jobs overseas. Cutting the corporate tax rate will create jobs and expand the dwindling individual tax base. The issue is not figuring out how to divide the proverbial pie, but rather how to expand it.
Oxford Analytica, an independent, privately held firm specializing in providing scholarly analysis of world developments for business and government leaders, published an excellent article
Singapore today signed a protocol with France that brings the two countries’ bilateral tax treaty into line with the OECD standard on transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes. This is the twelfth agreement it has signed in accordance with the OECD standard, thereby moving Singapore into the category of jurisdictions deemed to have substantially implemented the standard. This required that Singapore pass legislation to enable its authorities to exchange information, including bank and fiduciary information, with tax authorities in other countries.
Tax havens. Tax havens are not merely jurisdictions with nil or low tax rates; many countries attract business in this way. Explicit appellation is also misleading: for example, the OECD has never defined Singapore, nor Switzerland, as a ‘tax haven.’ The critical aspect of a tax haven is non-cooperation with other jurisdictions in the realm of tax information, and implicitly offering a refuge for tax evaders and money-laundering.
G20. The big economies are now pressing for compliance in transparency as a tool to put pressure on tax and asset-management aspects of tax havens. In practice, the main issue is use of tax havens for aggressive tax competition and homes for asset management in offshore funds:
- In 2009, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that 83 of the largest 100 US corporations were doing business in tax havens.
- The US Treasury estimated it was losing 100 billion dollars in revenue per annum.
Market fundamentalism. Growth of tax havens was possible mainly because, in the absence of global cooperation, piecemeal regulatory efforts would merely push business from one tax haven to another. In the prevailing climate of market fundamentalism, banks successfully argued that they needed freedom to organise their affairs. That time is over. The list of those who had not made “substantial progress” (ie had not signed twelve individual tax information exchange agreements with other jurisdictions) shrank by 15 in the April-November period:
- All jurisdictions of relevance have committed to tax transparency standards.
- About 20 small states remain to implement their commitments and seven larger economies have yet to do so.
There’s no question that OECD and G20 countries see tax havens as the enemy of their tax revenue. However, dismantling those regimes may have an unexpected, adverse effect on the capital markets. In the short-run, the cost of capital will likely rise in real terms impeding economic expansion as business and consumers find they are unable to afford the capital markets’ prevailing rates. Under this scenario an increase in inflation would also be likely as businesses would have to raise prices to obtain needed capital. Perversely, the very governments in the vanguard of the movement to dismantle tax havens would likely find themselves the most adversely impacted. Governments who have been running deficits will find the cost of funding those deficits as a percentage of their GDP will increase sharply, due to constraints being placed on the capital markets.
Ultimately, tax havens are a symptom of a much larger problem. Developed countries’ governments have grown to such gargantuan proportions that they must continually squeeze taxpayers to fund themselves. Corporations and individuals are essentially paying for the privilege of being taxed. Tax havens exist because there is a market for them. Contracting government, creating and implementing tax policies which align corporate and governmental interests, and efficient enforcement of existing rules is the better, albeit less sexy, answer.
Buried deep in the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962)Sauron’s little gold ring tax pros
- What it says: “In the case of any deductible (U.S. source item of fixed, determinable, annual, or periodic (“FDAP”) income ) related-party payment, directly or indirectly, any withholding tax imposed under chapter 3 (and any tax imposed under subpart A or B of this part) with respect to such payment may not be reduced under any treaty of the United States unless any such withholding tax would be reduced under a treaty of the United States if such payment were made directly to the foreign parent corporation.” [Emphasis added]
- What it means: 1) The stock ownership threshold for what it means to be a controlled party under IRC section 1563(a)(1) FIRPTA monkey-wrench
- What it says: “In the case of any transaction to which the economic substance doctrine is relevant, such transaction shall be treated as having economic substance only if – (A) the transaction changes in a meaningful way (apart from Federal income tax effects) the taxpayer’s economic position, and (B) the taxpayer has a substantial purpose (apart from Federal income tax effects) for entering into such transaction.”
- What it means: The Economic Substance Doctrine, heretofore an amorphous standard molded by the judiciary, would now be on the books as law. Essentially, the government would have a weapon to combat perceived tax shelters even if the taxpayer was technically compliant with relevant law and historical precedent. The language is highly subjective and ambiguous. Given that taxpayers already have the burden of proof, codification of the Economic Substance Doctrine raises the bar even higher, requiring justification not only of the transaction from a legal standpoint, but also from a business and economic position as well both qualitatively and qualitatively and leaves the door open to questions in the event the non-tax aspects of the transaction are unrealized or realized to a lesser degree than anticipated. In addition, the “Reasonable Cause and Good Faith” exceptions under IRC section 6664, would be amended to exclude transactions for which “Economic Substance” was lacking and for tax-shelters. In addition, IRC section 6662 would be amended to increase the 20 percent penalty, to 40 percent for non-disclosed non-economic substance transactions.
- What it says: “In the case of any specified person, paragraph (1) shall apply to the portion of an underpayment which is attributable to any item only if such person has a reasonable belief that the tax treatment of such item by such person is more likely than not the proper tax treatment of such item.”
- What it means: Instead of the “substantial authority” standard or reasonable basis plus disclosure test of current law, transactions would be subject to a “more likely than not” (“MLTN”) test. If this proposed legislation is made law in its current form, companies may have to accrue for additional penalties under FIN 48 for positions taken on a tax return where the position did not meet MLTN under the proposed legislation. It effectively raises the bar on affected taxpayers with respect to the current penalty regime under section 6662 by amending the “Reasonable Cause” provisions of section 6664. As currently drafted, the proposed change would pick up privately held corporations with $100 million or more of gross receipts and publicly traded persons.