For the foregoing reasons, OECD member countries reiterate their support for the consensus on the use of the arm’s length principle that has emerged over the years among member and non-member countries and agree that the theoretical alternative to the arm’s length principle represented by global formulary apportionment should be rejected.
As stated in paragraph 1.6 a “comparability analysis” is at the heart of the application of the arm’s length principle. Application of the arm’s length principle is based on a comparison of the conditions in a controlled transaction with the conditions that would have been made had the parties been independent and undertaking a comparable transaction under comparable circumstances. There are two key aspects in such an analysis: the first aspect is to identify the commercial or financial relations between the associated enterprises and the conditions and economically relevant circumstances attaching to those relations in order that the controlled transaction is accurately delineated; the second aspect is to compare the conditions and the economically relevant circumstances of the controlled transaction as accurately delineated with the conditions and the economically relevant circumstances of comparable transactions between independent enterprises. This section of Chapter I provides guidance on identifying the commercial or financial relations between the associated enterprises and on accurately delineating the controlled transaction. This first aspect of the analysis is distinct from the second aspect of considering the pricing of that controlled transaction under the arm’s length principle. Chapters II and III provide guidance on the second aspect of the analysis. The information about the controlled transaction determined under the guidance in this section is especially relevant for steps 2 and 3 of the typical process of a comparability analysis set out in paragraph 3.4.
The typical process of identifying the commercial or financial relations between the associated enterprises and the conditions and economically relevant circumstances attaching to those relations requires a broad-based understanding of the industry sector in which the MNE group operates (e.g. mining, pharmaceutical, luxury goods) and of the factors affecting the performance of any business operating in that sector. The understanding is derived from an overview of the particular MNE group which outlines how the MNE group responds to the factors affecting performance in the sector, including its business strategies, markets, products, its supply chain, and the key functions performed, material assets used, and important risks assumed. This information is likely to be included as part of the master file as described in Chapter V in support of a taxpayer’s analysis of its transfer pricing, and provides useful context in which the commercial or financial relations between members of the MNE group can be considered.
The process then narrows to identify how each MNE within that MNE group operates, and provides an analysis of what each MNE does (e.g. a production company, a sales company) and identifies its commercial or financial relations with associated enterprises as expressed in transactions between them. The accurate delineation of the actual transaction or transactions between the associated enterprises requires analysis of the economically relevant characteristics of the transaction. These economically relevant characteristics consist of the conditions of the transaction and the economically relevant circumstances in which the transaction takes place. The application of the arm’s length principle depends on determining the conditions that independent parties would have agreed in comparable transactions in comparable circumstances. Before making comparisons with uncontrolled transactions, it is therefore vital to identify the economically relevant characteristics of the commercial or financial relations as expressed in the controlled transaction.
The economically relevant characteristics or comparability factors that need to be identified in the commercial or financial relations between the associated enterprises in order to accurately delineate the actual transaction can be broadly categorised as follows:
This information about the economically relevant characteristics of the actual transaction should be included as part of the local file as described in Chapter V in support of a taxpayer’s analysis of its transfer pricing.
Economically relevant characteristics or comparability factors are used in two separate but related phases in a transfer pricing analysis. The first phase relates to the process of accurately delineating the controlled transaction for the purposes of this chapter, and involves establishing the characteristics of the transaction, including its terms, the functions performed, assets used, and risks assumed by the associated enterprises, the nature of the products transferred or services provided, and the circumstances of the associated enterprises, in accordance with the categories set out in the previous paragraph. The extent to which any one of the characteristics categorised above is economically relevant in a particular transaction depends on the extent to which it would be taken into account by independent enterprises when evaluating the terms of the same transaction were it to occur between them.
Independent enterprises, when evaluating the terms of a potential transaction, will compare the transaction to the other options realistically available to them, and they will only enter into the transaction if they see no alternative that offers a clearly more attractive opportunity to meet their commercial objectives. In other words, independent enterprises would only enter into a transaction if it is not expected to make them worse off than their next best option. For example, one enterprise is unlikely to accept a price offered for its product by an independent commercial enterprise if it knows that other potential customers are willing to pay more under similar conditions, or are willing to pay the same under more beneficial conditions. Independent enterprises will generally take into account any economically relevant differences between the options realistically available to them (such as differences in the level of risk) when valuing those options. Therefore, identifying the economically relevant characteristics of the transaction is essential in accurately delineating the controlled transaction and in revealing the range of characteristics taken into account by the parties to the transaction in reaching the conclusion that there is no clearly more attractive opportunity realistically available to meet their commercial objectives than the transaction adopted. In making such an assessment, it may be necessary or useful to assess the transaction in the context of a broader arrangement of transactions, since assessment of the options realistically available to third parties is not necessarily limited to the single transaction, but may take into account a broader arrangement of economically related transactions.
The second phase in which economically relevant characteristics or comparability factors are used in a transfer pricing analysis relates to the process set out in Chapter III of making comparisons between the controlled transactions and uncontrolled transactions in order to determine an arm’s length price for the controlled transaction. To make such comparisons, taxpayers and tax administrations need first to have identified the economically relevant characteristics of the controlled transaction. As set out in Chapter III, differences in economically relevant characteristics between the controlled and uncontrolled arrangements need to be taken into account when establishing whether there is comparability between the situations being compared and what adjustments may be necessary to achieve comparability.
All methods that apply the arm’s length principle can be tied to the concept that independent enterprises consider the options realistically available to them and in comparing one option to another they consider any differences between the options that would significantly affect their value. For instance, before purchasing a product at a given price, independent enterprises normally would be expected to consider whether they could buy an equivalent product on otherwise comparable terms and conditions but at a lower price from another party. Therefore, as discussed in Chapter II, Part II, the comparable uncontrolled price method compares a controlled transaction to similar uncontrolled transactions to provide a direct estimate of the price the parties would have agreed to had they resorted directly to a market alternative to the controlled transaction. However, the method becomes a less reliable substitute for arm’s length transactions if not all the characteristics of these uncontrolled transactions that significantly affect the price charged between independent enterprises are comparable. Similarly, the resale price and cost plus methods compare the gross profit margin earned in the controlled transaction to gross profit margins earned in similar uncontrolled transactions. The comparison provides an estimate of the gross profit margin one of the parties could have earned had it performed the same functions for independent enterprises and therefore provides an estimate of the payment that party would have demanded, and the other party would have been willing to pay, at arm’s length for performing those functions. Other methods, as discussed in Chapter II, Part III, are based on comparisons of net profit indicators (such as profit margins) between independent and associated enterprises as a means to estimate the profits that one or each of the associated enterprises could have earned had they dealt solely with independent enterprises, and therefore the payment those enterprises would have demanded at arm’s length to compensate them for using their resources in the controlled transaction. Where there are differences between the situations being compared that could materially affect the comparison, comparability adjustments must be made, where possible, to improve the reliability of the comparison. Therefore, in no event can unadjusted industry average returns themselves establish arm’s length prices.
For a discussion of the relevance of these factors for the application of particular pricing methods, see the consideration of those methods in Chapter II.
A transaction is the consequence or expression of the commercial or financial relations between the parties. The controlled transactions may have been formalised in written contracts which may reflect the intention of the parties at the time the contract was concluded in relation to aspects of the transaction covered by the contract, including in typical cases the division of responsibilities, obligations and rights, assumption of identified risks, and pricing arrangements. Where a transaction has been formalised by the associated enterprises through written contractual agreements, those agreements provide the starting point for delineating the transaction between them and how the responsibilities, risks, and anticipated outcomes arising from their interaction were intended to be divided at the time of entering into the contract. The terms of a transaction may also be found in communications between the parties other than a written contract.
However, the written contracts alone are unlikely to provide all the information necessary to perform a transfer pricing analysis, or to provide information regarding the relevant contractual terms in sufficient detail. Further information will be required by taking into consideration evidence of the commercial or financial relations provided by the economically relevant characteristics in the other four categories (see paragraph 1.36): the functions performed by each of the parties to the transaction, taking into account assets used and risks assumed, together with the characteristics of property transferred or services provided, the economic circumstances of the parties and of the market in which the parties operate, and the business strategies pursued by the parties. Taken together, the analysis of economically relevant characteristics in all five categories provides evidence of the actual conduct of the associated enterprises. The evidence may clarify aspects of the written contractual arrangements by providing useful and consistent information. If the contract neither explicitly nor implicitly (taking into account applicable principles of contract interpretation) addresses characteristics of the transaction that are economically relevant, then any information provided by the contract should be supplemented for purposes of the transfer pricing analysis by the evidence provided by identifying those characteristics.
The following example illustrates the concept of clarifying and supplementing the written contractual terms based on the identification of the actual commercial or financial relations. Company P is the parent company of an MNE group situated in Country P. Company S, situated in Country S, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Company P and acts as an agent for Company P’s branded products in the Country S market. The agency contract between Company P and Company S is silent about any marketing and advertising activities in Country S that the parties should perform. Analysis of other economically relevant characteristics and in particular the functions performed, determines that Company S launched an intensive media campaign in Country S in order to develop brand awareness. This campaign represents a significant investment for Company S. Based on evidence provided by the conduct of the parties, it could be concluded that the written contract may not reflect the full extent of the commercial or financial relations between the parties. Accordingly, the analysis should not be limited by the terms recorded in the written contract, but further evidence should be sought as to the conduct of the parties, including as to the basis upon which Company S undertook the media campaign.
If the characteristics of the transaction that are economically relevant are inconsistent with the written contract between the associated enterprises, the actual transaction should generally be delineated for purposes of the transfer pricing analysis in accordance with the characteristics of the transaction reflected in the conduct of the parties.
In transactions between independent enterprises, the divergence of interests between the parties ensures (i) that contractual terms are concluded that reflect the interests of both of the parties, (ii) that the parties will ordinarily seek to hold each other to the terms of the contract, and (iii) that contractual terms will be ignored or modified after the fact generally only if it is in the interests of both parties. The same divergence of interests may not exist in the case of associated enterprises or any such divergences may be managed in ways facilitated by the control relationship and not solely or mainly through contractual agreements. It is, therefore, particularly important in considering the commercial or financial relations between associated enterprises to examine whether the arrangements reflected in the actual conduct of the parties substantially conform to the terms of any written contract, or whether the associated enterprises’ actual conduct indicates that the contractual terms have not been followed, do not reflect a complete picture of the transactions, have been incorrectly characterised or labelled by the enterprises, or are a sham. Where conduct is not fully consistent with economically significant contractual terms, further analysis is required to identify the actual transaction. Where there are material differences between contractual terms and the conduct of the associated enterprises in their relations with one another, the functions they actually perform, the assets they actually use, and the risks they actually assume, considered in the context of the contractual terms, should ultimately determine the factual substance and accurately delineate the actual transaction.
Where there is doubt as to what transaction was agreed between the associated enterprises, it is necessary to take into account all the relevant evidence from the economically relevant characteristics of the transaction. In doing so one must bear in mind that the terms of the transaction between the enterprises may change over time. Where there has been a change in the terms of a transaction, the circumstances surrounding the change should be examined to determine whether the change indicates that the original transaction has been replaced through a new transaction with effect from the date of the change, or whether the change reflects the intentions of the parties in the original transaction. Particular care should be exercised where it appears that any changes may have been triggered by knowledge of emerging outcomes from the transaction. Changes made in the purported assumption of a risk when risk outcomes are known do not involve an assumption of risk since there is no longer any risk, as discussed in paragraph 1.78.
The following example illustrates the concept of differences between written contractual terms and conduct of the parties, with the result that the actual conduct of the parties delineates the transaction. Company S is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Company P. The parties have entered into a written contract pursuant to which Company P licenses intellectual property to Company S for use in Company S’s business; Company S agrees to compensate Company P for the licence with a royalty. Evidence provided by other economically relevant characteristics, and in particular the functions performed, establishes that Company P performs negotiations with third-party customers to achieve sales for Company S, provides regular technical services support to Company S so that Company S can deliver contracted sales to its customers, and regularly provides staff to enable Company S to fulfil customer contracts. A majority of customers insist on including Company P as joint contracting party along with Company S, although fee income under the contract is payable to Company S. The analysis of the commercial or financial relations indicates that Company S is not capable of providing the contracted services to customers without significant support from Company P, and is not developing its own capability. Under the contract, Company P has given a licence to Company S, but in fact controls the business risk and output of Company S such that it has not transferred risk and function consistent with a licensing arrangement, and acts not as the licensor but the principal. The identification of the actual transaction between Company P and Company S should not be defined solely by the terms of the written contract. Instead, the actual transaction should be determined from the conduct of the parties, leading to the conclusion that the actual functions performed, assets used, and risks assumed by the parties are not consistent with the written licence agreement.
Where no written terms exist, the actual transaction would need to be deduced from the evidence of actual conduct provided by identifying the economically relevant characteristics of the transaction. In some circumstances the actual outcome of commercial or financial relations may not have been identified as a transaction by the MNE, but nevertheless may result in a transfer of material value, the terms of which would need to be deduced from the conduct of the parties. For example, technical assistance may have been granted, synergies may have been created through deliberate concerted action (as discussed in Section D.8), or know-how may have been provided through seconded employees or otherwise. These relations may not have been recognised by the MNE, may not be reflected in the pricing of other connected transactions, may not have been formalised in written contracts, and may not appear as entries in the accounting systems. Where the transaction has not been formalised, all aspects would need to be deduced from available evidence of the conduct of the parties, including what functions are actually performed, what assets are actually used, and what risks are actually assumed by each of the parties.
The following example illustrates the concept of determining the actual transaction where a transaction has not been identified by the MNE. In reviewing the commercial or financial relations between Company P and its subsidiary companies, it is observed that those subsidiaries receive services from an independent party engaged by Company P. Company P pays for the services, the subsidiaries do not reimburse Company P directly or indirectly through the pricing of another transaction and there is no service agreement in place between Company P and the subsidiaries. The conclusion is that, in addition to a provision of services by the independent party to the subsidiaries, there are commercial or financial relations between Company P and the subsidiaries, which transfer potential value from Company P to the subsidiaries. The analysis would need to determine the nature of those commercial or financial relations from the economically relevant characteristics in order to determine the terms and conditions of the identified transaction.
In transactions between two independent enterprises, compensation usually will reflect the functions that each enterprise performs (taking into account assets used and risks assumed). Therefore, in delineating the controlled transaction and determining comparability between controlled and uncontrolled transactions or entities, a functional analysis is necessary. This functional analysis seeks to identify the economically significant activities and responsibilities undertaken, assets used or contributed, and risks assumed by the parties to the transactions. The analysis focuses on what the parties actually do and the capabilities they provide. Such activities and capabilities will include decision-making, including decisions about business strategy and risks. For this purpose, it may be helpful to understand the structure and organisation of the MNE group and how they influence the context in which the MNE operates. In particular, it is important to understand how value is generated by the group as a whole, the interdependencies of the functions performed by the associated enterprises with the rest of the group, and the contribution that the associated enterprises make to that value creation. It will also be relevant to determine the legal rights and obligations of each of the parties in performing their functions. While one party may provide a large number of functions relative to that of the other party to the transaction, it is the economic significance of those functions in terms of their frequency, nature, and value to the respective parties to the transactions that is important.
The actual contributions, capabilities, and other features of the parties can influence the options realistically available to them. For example, an associated enterprise provides logistics services to the group. The logistics company is required to operate warehouses with spare capacity and in several locations in order to be able to cope in the event that supply is disrupted at any one location. The option of greater efficiency through consolidation of locations and reduction in excess capacity is not available. Its functions and assets may, therefore, be different to those of an independent logistics company if that independent service provider did not offer the same capabilities to reduce the risk of disruption to supply.
Therefore, the process of identifying the economically relevant characteristics of the commercial or financial relations should include consideration of the capabilities of the parties, how such capabilities affect options realistically available, and whether similar capabilities are reflected in potentially comparable arm’s length arrangements.
The functional analysis should consider the type of assets used, such as plant and equipment, the use of valuable intangibles, financial assets, etc., and the nature of the assets used, such as the age, market value, location, property right protections available, etc.
The functional analysis may show that the MNE group has fragmented highly integrated functions across several group companies. There may be considerable interdependencies between the fragmented activities. For example, the separation into different legal entities of logistics, warehousing, marketing, and sales functions may require considerable co-ordination in order that the separate activities interact effectively. Sales activities are likely to be highly dependent on marketing, and fulfilment of sales, including the anticipated impact of marketing activities, would require alignment with stocking processes and logistics capability. That required co-ordination may be performed by some or all of the associated enterprises performing the fragmented activities, performed through a separate co-ordination function, or performed through a combination of both. Risk may be mitigated through contributions from all the parties, or risk mitigation activities may be undertaken mainly by the co-ordination function. Therefore, when conducting a functional analysis to identify the commercial or financial relations in fragmented activities, it will be important to determine whether those activities are highly interdependent, and, if so, the nature of the interdependencies and how the commercial activity to which the associated enterprises contribute is co-ordinated.
A functional analysis is incomplete unless the material risks assumed by each party have been identified and considered since the actual assumption of risks would influence the prices and other conditions of transactions between the associated enterprises. Usually, in the open market, the assumption of increased risk would also be compensated by an increase in the expected return, although the actual return may or may not increase depending on the degree to which the risks are actually realised. The level and assumption of risk, therefore, are economically relevant characteristics that can be significant in determining the outcome of a transfer pricing analysis.
Risk is inherent in business activities. Enterprises undertake commercial activities because they seek opportunities to make profits, but those opportunities carry uncertainty that the required resources to pursue the opportunities either will be greater than expected or will not generate the expected returns. Identifying risks goes hand in hand with identifying functions and assets and is integral to the process of identifying the commercial or financial relations between the associated enterprises and of accurately delineating the transaction or transactions.
The assumption of risks associated with a commercial opportunity affects the profit potential of that opportunity in the open market, and the allocation of risks assumed between the parties to the arrangement affects how profits or losses resulting from the transaction are allocated at arm’s length through the pricing of the transaction. Therefore, in making comparisons between controlled and uncontrolled transactions and between controlled and uncontrolled parties it is necessary to analyse what risks have been assumed, what functions are performed that relate to or affect the assumption or impact of these risks and which party or parties to the transaction assume these risks.
This section provides guidance on the nature and sources of risk relevant to a transfer pricing analysis in order to help identify relevant risks with specificity. In addition, this section provides guidance on risk assumption under the arm’s length principle. The detailed guidance provided in this section on the analysis of risks as part of a functional analysis covering functions, assets, and risks, should not be interpreted as indicating that risks are more important than functions or assets. The relevance of functions, assets and risks in a specific transaction will need to be determined through a detailed functional analysis. The expanded guidance on risks reflects the practical difficulties presented by risks: risks in a transaction can be harder to identify than functions or assets, and determining which associated enterprise assumes a particular risk in a transaction can require careful analysis.
The steps in the process set out in the rest of this section for analysing risk in a controlled transaction, in order to accurately delineate the actual transaction in respect to that risk, can be summarised as follows:
In this section references are made to terms that require initial explanation and definition. The term “risk management” is used to refer to the function of assessing and responding to risk associated with commercial activity. Risk management comprises three elements: (i) the capability to make decisions to take on, lay off, or decline a risk-bearing opportunity, together with the actual performance of that decision-making function, (ii) the capability to make decisions on whether and how to respond to the risks associated with the opportunity, together with the actual performance of that decision-making function, and (iii) the capability to mitigate risk, that is the capability to take measures that affect risk outcomes, together with the actual performance of such risk mitigation.
Some risk management functions can be undertaken only by the party performing functions and using assets in creating and pursuing commercial opportunities, while other risk management functions can be undertaken by a different party. Risk management should not be thought of as necessarily encompassing a separate function, requiring separate remuneration, distinct from the performance of the activities that optimise profits. For example, the development of intangibles through development activities may involve mitigating risks relating to performing the development according to specifications at the highest possible standards and on time; the particular risks might be mitigated through the performance of the development function itself. For example, if the contractual arrangement between the associated enterprises is a contract R&D arrangement that is respected under the requirements of this section, remuneration for risk mitigation functions performed through the development activity would be incorporated into the arm’s length services payment. Neither the intangible risk itself, nor the residual income associated with such risk, would be allocated to the service provider. See also Example 1 in paragraph 1.83.
Risk management is not the same as assuming a risk. Risk assumption means taking on the upside and downside consequences of the risk with the result that the party assuming a risk will also bear the financial and other consequences if the risk materialises. A party performing part of the risk management functions may not assume the risk that is the subject of its management activity, but may be hired to perform risk mitigation functions under the direction of the risk-assuming party. For example, the day-to-day mitigation of product recall risk may be outsourced to a party performing monitoring of quality control over a specific manufacturing process according to the specifications of the party assuming the risk.
Financial capacity to assume risk can be defined as access to funding to take on the risk or to lay off the risk, to pay for the risk mitigation functions and to bear the consequences of the risk if the risk materialises. Access to funding by the party assuming the risk takes into account the available assets and the options realistically available to access additional liquidity, if needed, to cover the costs anticipated to arise should the risk materialise. This assessment should be made on the basis that the party assuming the risk is operating as an unrelated party in the same circumstances as the associated enterprise, as accurately delineated under the principles of this section. For example, exploitation of rights in an income-generating asset could open up funding possibilities for that party. Where a party assuming risk receives intra-group funding to meet the funding demands in relation to the risk, the party providing the funding may assume financial risk but does not, merely as a consequence of providing funding, assume the specific risk that gives rise to the need for additional funding. Where the financial capacity to assume a risk is lacking, then the allocation of risk requires further consideration under step 5.
Control over risk involves the first two elements of risk management defined in paragraph 1.61; that is (i) the capability to make decisions to take on, lay off, or decline a risk-bearing opportunity, together with the actual performance of that decision-making function and (ii) the capability to make decisions on whether and how to respond to the risks associated with the opportunity, together with the actual performance of that decision-making function. It is not necessary for a party to perform the day-to-day mitigation, as described in (iii) in order to have control of the risks. Such day-to-day mitigation may be outsourced, as the example in paragraph 1.63 illustrates. However, where these day-to-day mitigation activities are outsourced, control of the risk would require capability to determine the objectives of the outsourced activities, to decide to hire the provider of the risk mitigation functions, to assess whether the objectives are being adequately met, and, where necessary, to decide to adapt or terminate the contract with that provider, together with the performance of such assessment and decision-making. In accordance with this definition of control, a party requires both capability and functional performance as described above in order to exercise control over a risk.
The capability to perform decision-making functions and the actual performance of such decision-making functions relating to a specific risk involve an understanding of the risk based on a relevant analysis of the information required for assessing the foreseeable downside and upside risk outcomes of such a decision and the consequences for the business of the enterprise. Decision-makers should possess competence and experience in the area of the particular risk for which the decision is being made and possess an understanding of the impact of their decision on the business. They should also have access to the relevant information, either by gathering this information themselves or by exercising authority to specify and obtain the relevant information to support the decision-making process. In doing so, they require capability to determine the objectives of the gathering and analysis of the information, to hire the party gathering the information and making the analyses, to assess whether the right information is gathered and the analyses are adequately made, and, where necessary, to decide to adapt or terminate the contract with that provider, together with the performance of such assessment and decision-making. Neither a mere formalising of the outcome of decision-making in the form of, for example, meetings organised for formal approval of decisions that were made in other locations, minutes of a board meeting and signing of the documents relating to the decision, nor the setting of the policy environment relevant for the risk (see paragraph 1.76), qualifies as the exercise of a decision-making function sufficient to demonstrate control over a risk.
References to control over risk should not necessarily be taken to mean that the risk itself can be influenced or that the uncertainty can be nullified. Some risks cannot be influenced, and are a general condition of commercial activity affecting all businesses undertaking that activity. For example, risks associated with general economic conditions or commodity price cycles are typically beyond the scope of an MNE group to influence. Instead control over risk should be understood as the capability and authority to decide to take on the risk, and to decide whether and how to respond to the risk, for example through the timing of investments, the nature of development programmes, the design of marketing strategies, or the setting of production levels.
Risk mitigation refers to measures taken that are expected to affect risk outcomes. Such measures may include measures that reduce the uncertainty or measures that reduce the consequences in the event that the downside impact of risk occurs. Control should not be interpreted as requiring risk mitigation measures to be adopted, since in assessing risks businesses may decide that the uncertainty associated with some risks, including risks that may be fundamental to their core business operations, after being evaluated, should be taken on and faced in order to create and maximise opportunities.
The concept of control may be illustrated by the following examples. Company A appoints a specialist manufacturer, Company B to manufacture products on its behalf. The contractual arrangements indicate that Company B undertakes to perform manufacturing services, but that the product specifications and designs are provided by Company A, and that Company A determines production scheduling, including the volumes and timing of product delivery. The contractual relations imply that Company A bears the inventory risk and the product recall risk. Company A hires Company C to perform regular quality controls of the production process. Company A specifies the objectives of the quality control audits and the information that Company C should gather on its behalf. Company C reports directly to Company A. Analysis of the economically relevant characteristics shows that Company A controls its product recall and inventory risks by exercising its capability and authority to make a number of relevant decisions about whether and how to take on risk and how to respond to the risks. Besides that Company A has the capability to assess and take decisions relating to the risk mitigation functions and actually performs these functions. These include determining the objectives of the outsourced activities, the decision to hire the particular manufacturer and the party performing the quality checks, the assessment of whether the objectives are adequately met, and, where necessary, to decide to adapt or terminate the contracts.
Assume that an investor hires a fund manager to invest funds on its account. Depending on the agreement between the investor and the fund manager, the latter may be given the authority to make portfolio investments on behalf of the investor on a day-to-day basis in a way that reflects the risk preferences of the investor, although the risk of loss in value of the investment would be borne by the investor. In such an example, the investor is controlling its risks through four relevant decisions: the decision about its risk preference and therefore about the required diversification of the risks attached to the different investments that are part of the portfolio, the decision to hire (or terminate the contract with) that particular fund manager, the decision of the extent of the authority it gives to the fund manager and objectives it assigns to the latter, and the decision of the amount of the investment that it asks this fund manager to manage. Moreover, the fund manager would generally be required to report back to the investor on a regular basis as the investor would want to assess the outcome of the fund manager’s activities. In such a case, the fund manager is providing a service and managing his business risk from his own perspective (e.g. to protect his credibility). The fund manager’s operational risk, including the possibility of losing a client, is distinct from his client’s investment risk. This illustrates the fact that an investor who gives to another person the authority to perform risk mitigation activities such as those performed by the fund manager does not necessarily transfer control of the investment risk to the person making these day-to-day decisions.
There are many definitions of risk, but in a transfer pricing context it is appropriate to consider risk as the effect of uncertainty on the objectives of the business. In all of a company’s operations, every step taken to exploit opportunities, every time a company spends money or generates income, uncertainty exists, and risk is assumed. A company is likely to direct much attention to identifying uncertainties it encounters, in evaluating whether and how business opportunities should be pursued in view of their inherent risks, and in developing appropriate risk mitigation strategies which are important to shareholders seeking their required rate of return. Risk is associated with opportunities, and does not have downside connotations alone; it is inherent in commercial activity, and companies choose which risks they wish to assume in order to have the opportunity to generate profits. No profit- seeking business takes on risk associated with commercial opportunities without expecting a positive return. Downside impact of risk occurs when the anticipated favourable outcomes fail to materialise. For example, a product may fail to attract as much consumer demand as projected. However, such an event is the downside manifestation of uncertainty associated with commercial opportunities. Companies are likely to devote considerable attention to identifying and managing economically significant risks in order to maximise the positive returns from having pursued the opportunity in the face of risk. Such attention may include activities around determining the product strategy, how the product is differentiated, how to identify changing market trends, how to anticipate political and social changes, and how to create demand. The significance of a risk depends on the likelihood and size of the potential profits or losses arising from the risk. For example, a different flavour of ice-cream may not be the company’s sole product, the costs of developing, introducing, and marketing the product may have been marginal, the success or failure of the product may not create significant reputational risks so long as business management protocols are followed, and decision-making may have been effected by delegation to local or regional management who can provide knowledge of local tastes. However, ground-breaking technology or an innovative healthcare treatment may represent the sole or major product, involve significant strategic decisions at different stages, require substantial investment costs, create significant opportunities to make or break reputation, and require centralised management that would be of keen interest to shareholders and other stakeholders.
Risks can be categorised in various ways, but a relevant framework in a transfer pricing analysis is to consider the sources of uncertainty which give rise to risk. The following non-exclusive list of sources of risk is not intended to suggest a hierarchy of risk. Neither is it intended to provide rigid categories of risk, since there is overlap between the categories. Instead, it is intended to provide a framework that may assist in ensuring that a transfer pricing analysis considers the range of risks likely to arise from the commercial or financial relations of the associated enterprises, and from the context in which those relations take place. Reference is made to risks that are externally driven and those that are internally driven in order to help clarify sources of uncertainty. However, there should be no inference that externally driven risks are less relevant because they are not generated directly by activities. On the contrary, the ability of a company to face, respond to and mitigate externally driven risks is likely to be a necessary condition for a business to remain competitive. Importantly, guidance on the possible range of risk should assist in identifying material risks with specificity. Risks which are vaguely described or undifferentiated will not serve the purposes of a transfer pricing analysis seeking to delineate the actual transaction and the actual allocation of risk between the parties.
a) Strategic risks or marketplace risks. These are largely external risks caused by the economic environment, political and regulatory events, competition, technological advance, or social and environmental changes. The assessment of such uncertainties may define the products and markets the company decides to target, and the capabilities it requires, including investment in intangibles and tangible assets, as well as in the talent of its human capital. There is considerable potential downside, but the upside is also considerable if the company identifies correctly the impact of external risks, and differentiates its products and secures and continues to protect competitive advantage. Examples of such risks may include marketplace trends, new geographical markets, and concentration of development investment.
b) Infrastructure or operational risks. These are likely to include the uncertainties associated with the company’s business execution and may include the effectiveness of processes and operations. The impact of such risks is highly dependent on the nature of the activities and the uncertainties the company chooses to assume. In some circumstances breakdowns can have a crippling effect on the company’s operations or reputation and threaten its existence; whereas successful management of such risks can enhance reputation. In other circumstances, the failure to bring a product to market on time, to meet demand, to meet specifications, or to produce to high standards, can affect competitive and reputational position, and give advantage to companies which bring competing products to market more quickly, better exploit periods of market protection provided by, for example, patents, better manage supply chain risks and quality control. Some infrastructure risks are externally driven and may involve transport links, political and social situations, laws and regulations, whereas others are internally driven and may involve capability and availability of assets, employee capability, process design and execution, outsourcing arrangements, and IT systems.
c) Financial risks. All risks are likely to affect a company’s financial performance, but there are specific financial risks related to the company’s ability to manage liquidity and cash flow, financial capacity, and creditworthiness. The uncertainty can be externally driven, for example by economic shock or credit crisis, but can also be internally driven through controls, investment decisions, credit terms, and through outcomes of infrastructure or operational risks.
d) Transactional risks. These are likely to include pricing and payment terms in a commercial transaction for the supply of goods, property, or services.
e) Hazard risks. These are likely to include adverse external events that may cause damages or losses, including accidents and natural disasters. Such risks can often be mitigated through insurance, but insurance may not cover all the potential loss, particularly where there are significant impacts on operations or reputation.
Determining the economic significance of risk and how risk may affect the pricing of a transaction between associated enterprises is part of the broader functional analysis of how value is created by the MNE group, the activities that allow the MNE group to sustain profits, and the economically relevant characteristics of the transaction. The analysis of risk also helps to determine comparability under the guidance in Chapter III. Where potential comparables are identified, it is relevant to determine whether they include the same level of risks and management of risks. The economic significance of risk may be illustrated by the following two situations.
In the first situation the MNE group distributes heating oil to consumers. Analysis of the economically relevant characteristics establishes that the product is undifferentiated, the market is competitive, the market size is predictable, and players are price-takers. In such circumstances, the ability to influence margins may be limited. The credit terms achieved from managing the relationship with the oil suppliers fund working capital and are crucial to the distributor’s margin. The impact of the risk on cost of capital is, therefore, significant in the context of how value is created for the distribution function.
In the second situation, a multinational toy retailer buys a wide range of products from a number of third-party manufacturers. Most of its sales are concentrated in the last two months of the calendar year, and a significant risk relates to the strategic direction of the buying function, and in making the right bets on trends and determining the products that will sell and in what volumes. Trends and the demand for products can vary across markets, and so expertise is needed to evaluate the right bets in the local market. The effect of the buying risk can be magnified if the retailer negotiates a period of exclusivity for a particular product with the third- party manufacturer
Control over a specific risk in a transaction focusses on the decision-making of the parties to the transaction in relation to the specific risk arising from the transaction. This is not to say, however, that in an MNE group other parties may not be involved in setting general policies that are relevant for the assumption and control of the specific risks identified in a transaction, without such policy-setting itself representing decision making. The board and executive committees of the group, for example, may set the level of risk the group as a whole is prepared to accept in order to achieve commercial objectives, and to establish the control framework for managing and reporting risk in its operations. Line management in business segments, operational entities, and functional departments may identify and assess risk against the commercial opportunities, and put in place appropriate controls and processes to address risk and influence the risk outcomes arising from day-to-day operations. The opportunities pursued by operational entities require the ongoing management of the risk that the resources allocated to the opportunity will deliver the anticipated return. For example, finished product inventory risk in a supply transaction between two associated enterprises may be controlled by the party with the capability to determine the production volumes together with the performance of that decision- making. The way that inventory risk in the transaction between two associated enterprises is addressed may be subject to policy-setting elsewhere in the MNE group about overall levels of working capital tied up in inventory, or co-ordination of appropriate minimum stocking levels across markets to meet strategic objectives. This wider policy-setting however cannot be regarded as decisions to take on, lay off, decline, or mitigate the specific inventory risk in the example of the product supply transaction in this paragraph.
The identity of the party or parties assuming risks may be set out in written contracts between the parties to a transaction involving these risks. A written contract typically sets out an intended assumption of risk by the parties. Some risks may be explicitly assumed in the contractual arrangements. For example, a distributor might contractually assume accounts receivable risk, inventory risk, and credit risks associated with the distributor’s sales to unrelated customers. Other risks might be implicitly assumed. For example, contractual arrangements that provide non- contingent remuneration for one of the parties implicitly allocate the outcome of some risks, including unanticipated profits or losses, to the other party.
A contractual assumption of risk constitutes an ex ante agreement to bear some or all of the potential costs associated with the ex post materialisation of downside outcomes of risk in return for some or all of the potential benefit associated with the ex post materialisation of positive outcomes. Importantly, ex ante contractual assumption of risk should provide clear evidence of a commitment to assume risk prior to the materialisation of risk outcomes. Such evidence is a very important part of the tax administration’s transfer pricing analysis of risks in commercial or financial relations, since, in practice, an audit performed by the tax administration may occur years after the making of such up-front decisions by the associated enterprises and when outcomes are known. The purported assumption of risk by associated enterprises when risk outcomes are certain is by definition not an assumption of risk, since there is no longer any risk. Similarly, ex post reallocations of risk by a tax administration when risk outcomes are certain may, unless based on the guidance elsewhere in these Guidelines and in particular Section D.1.2.1, be inappropriate.
It is economically neutral to take on (or lay off) risk in return for higher (or lower) anticipated nominal income as long as the net present value of both options are equal. Between unrelated parties, for example, the sale of a risky income-producing asset may reflect in part a preference of the seller to accept a lower but more certain amount of nominal income and to forego the possibility of higher anticipated nominal income it might earn if it instead retained and exploited the asset. In a without-recourse debt factoring arrangement between independent enterprises, for example, the seller discounts the face value of its receivables in return for a fixed payment, and so accepts a lower return but has reduced its volatility and laid off risk. The factor will often be a specialised organisation which has the capability to decide to take on risk and to decide on how to respond to the risk, including by diversifying the risk and having the functional capabilities to mitigate the risk and generate a return from the opportunity. Neither party will expect to be worse off as a result of entering into the arrangement, essentially because they have different risk preferences resulting from their capabilities in relation to the specific risk. The factor is more capable of managing the risk than the seller and terms acceptable to both parties can be agreed.
However, it does not follow that every contractual exchange of potentially higher but riskier income for lower but less risky income between associated enterprises is automatically arm’s length. The rest of the steps set out in this section describe the information required to determine how the associated enterprises operate in relation to the assumption and management of risk leading to the accurate delineation of the actual transaction in relation to risk.
The assumption of risk has a significant effect on determining arm’s length pricing between associated enterprises, and it should not be concluded that the pricing arrangements adopted in the contractual arrangements alone determine which party assumes risk. Therefore, one may not infer from the fact that the price paid between associated enterprises for goods or services is set at a particular level, or by reference to a particular margin, that risks are borne by those associated enterprises in a particular manner. For example, a manufacturer may claim to be protected from the risk of price fluctuation of raw material as a consequence of its being remunerated by another group company on a basis that takes account of its actual costs. The implication of the claim is that the other group company bears the risk. The form of remuneration cannot dictate inappropriate risk allocations. It is the determination of how the parties actually manage and control risks, as set out in the remaining steps of the process of analysing risk, which will determine the assumption of risks by the parties, and consequently dictate the selection of the most appropriate transfer pricing method.