Parts II and III of this chapter respectively describe “traditional transaction methods” and “transactional profit methods” that can be used to establish whether the conditions imposed in the commercial or financial relations between associated enterprises are consistent with the arm’s length principle. Traditional transaction methods are the comparable uncontrolled price method or CUP method, the resale price method, and the cost plus method. Transactional profit methods are the transactional net margin method and the transactional profit split method.
The selection of a transfer pricing method always aims at finding the most appropriate method for a particular case. For this purpose, the selection process should take account of the respective strengths and weaknesses of the OECD recognised methods; the appropriateness of the method considered in view of the nature of the controlled transaction, determined in particular through a functional analysis; the availability of reliable information (in particular on uncontrolled comparables) needed to apply the selected method and/or other methods; and the degree of comparability between controlled and uncontrolled transactions, including the reliability of comparability adjustments that may be needed to eliminate material differences between them. No one method is suitable in every possible situation, nor is it necessary to prove that a particular method is not suitable under the circumstances.
Traditional transaction methods are regarded as the most direct means of establishing whether conditions in the commercial and financial relations between associated enterprises are arm’s length. This is because any difference in the price of a controlled transaction from the price in a comparable uncontrolled transaction can normally be traced directly to the commercial and financial relations made or imposed between the enterprises, and the arm’s length conditions can be established by directly substituting the price in the comparable uncontrolled transaction for the price of the controlled transaction. As a result, where, taking account of the criteria described at paragraph 2.2, a traditional transaction method and a transactional profit method can be applied in an equally reliable manner, the traditional transaction method is preferable to the transactional profit method. Moreover, where, taking account of the criteria described at paragraph 2.2, the comparable uncontrolled price method (CUP) and another transfer pricing method can be applied in an equally reliable manner, the CUP method is to be preferred. See paragraphs 2.14-2.26 for a discussion of the CUP method.
There are situations where transactional profit methods are found to be more appropriate than traditional transaction methods. For example, cases where each of the parties makes unique and valuable contributions in relation to the controlled transaction, or where the parties engage in highly integrated activities, may make a transactional profit split more appropriate than a one-sided method. As another example, where there is no or limited publicly available reliable gross margin information on third parties, traditional transaction methods might be difficult to apply in cases other than those where there are internal comparables, and a transactional profit method might be the most appropriate method in view of the availability of information.
However, it is not appropriate to apply a transactional profit method merely because data concerning uncontrolled transactions are difficult to obtain or incomplete in one or more respects. The same criteria listed in paragraph 2.2 that were used to reach the initial conclusion that none of the traditional transactional methods could be reliably applied under the circumstances must be considered again in evaluating the reliability of the transactional profit method.
Methods that are based on profits can be accepted only insofar as they are compatible with Article 9 of the OECD Model Tax Convention, especially with regard to comparability. This is achieved by applying the methods in a manner that approximates arm’s length pricing. The application of the arm’s length principle is generally based on a comparison of the price, margin or profits from particular controlled transactions with the price, margin or profits from comparable transactions between independent enterprises. In the case of a transactional profit split method, it is based on an approximation of the division of profits that independent enterprises would have expected to realise from engaging in the transaction(s) (see paragraph 2.114).
In no case should transactional profit methods be used so as to result in over-taxing enterprises mainly because they make profits lower than the average, or in under-taxing enterprises that make higher than average profits. There is no justification under the arm’s length principle for imposing additional tax on enterprises that are less successful than average or, conversely, for under-taxing enterprises that are more successful than average, when the reason for their success or lack thereof is attributable to commercial factors.
The guidance at paragraph 2.2 that the selection of a transfer pricing method always aims at finding the most appropriate method for each particular case does not mean that all the transfer pricing methods should be analysed in depth or tested in each case in arriving at the selection of the most appropriate method. As a matter of good practice, the selection of the most appropriate method and comparables should be evidenced and can be part of a typical search process as proposed at paragraph 3.4.
Moreover, MNE groups retain the freedom to apply methods not described in these Guidelines (hereafter “other methods”) to establish prices provided those prices satisfy the arm’s length principle in accordance with these Guidelines. Such other methods should however not be used in substitution for OECD-recognised methods where the latter are more appropriate to the facts and circumstances of the case. In cases where other methods are used, their selection should be supported by an explanation of why OECD-recognised methods were regarded as less appropriate or non- workable in the circumstances of the case and of the reason why the selected other method was regarded as providing a better solution. A taxpayer should maintain and be prepared to provide documentation regarding how its transfer prices were established. For a discussion of documentation, see Chapter V.
The application of a general rule of thumb does not provide an adequate substitute for a complete functional and comparability analysis conducted under the principles of Chapters I – III. Accordingly, a rule of thumb cannot be used to evidence that a price or an apportionment of income is arm’s length.
It is not possible to provide specific rules that will cover every case. Tax administrators should hesitate from making minor or marginal adjustments. In general, the parties should attempt to reach a reasonable accommodation keeping in mind the imprecision of the various methods and the preference for higher degrees of comparability and a more direct and closer relationship to the transaction. It should not be the case that useful information, such as might be drawn from uncontrolled transactions that are not identical to the controlled transactions, should be dismissed simply because some rigid standard of comparability is not fully met. Similarly, evidence from enterprises engaged in controlled transactions with associated enterprises may be useful in understanding the transaction under review or as a pointer to further investigation. Further, any method should be permitted where its application is agreeable to the members of the MNE group involved with the transaction or transactions to which the methodology applies and also to the tax administrations in the jurisdictions of all those members.
The arm’s length principle does not require the application of more than one method for a given transaction (or set of transactions that are appropriately aggregated following the standard described at paragraph 3.9), and in fact undue reliance on such an approach could create a significant burden for taxpayers. Thus, these Guidelines do not require either the tax examiner or taxpayer to perform analyses under more than one method. While in some cases the selection of a method may not be straightforward and more than one method may be initially considered, generally it will be possible to select one method that is apt to provide the best estimation of an arm’s length price. However, for difficult cases, where no one approach is conclusive, a flexible approach would allow the evidence of various methods to be used in conjunction. In such cases, an attempt should be made to reach a conclusion consistent with the arm’s length principle that is satisfactory from a practical viewpoint to all the parties involved, taking into account the facts and circumstances of the case, the mix of evidence available, and the relative reliability of the various methods under consideration. See paragraphs 3.58–3.59 for a discussion of cases where a range of figures results from the use of more than one method.
This part provides a detailed description of traditional transaction methods that are used to apply the arm’s length principle. These methods are the comparable uncontrolled price method or CUP method, the resale price method, and the cost plus method.
The CUP method compares the price charged for property or services transferred in a controlled transaction to the price charged for property or services transferred in a comparable uncontrolled transaction in comparable circumstances. If there is any difference between the two prices, this may indicate that the conditions of the commercial and financial relations of the associated enterprises are not arm’s length, and that the price in the uncontrolled transaction may need to be substituted for the price in the controlled transaction.
Following the principles in Chapter I, an uncontrolled transaction is comparable to a controlled transaction (i.e. it is a comparable uncontrolled transaction) for purposes of the CUP method if one of two conditions is met:
a) none of the differences (if any) between the transactions being compared or between the enterprises undertaking those transactions could materially affect the price in the open market; or, b) reasonably accurate adjustments can be made to eliminate the material effects of such differences. Where it is possible to locate comparable uncontrolled transactions, the CUP method is the most direct and reliable way to apply the arm’s length principle. Consequently, in such cases the CUP method is preferable over all other methods.
It may be difficult to find a transaction between independent enterprises that is similar enough to a controlled transaction such that no differences have a material effect on price. For example, a minor difference in the property transferred in the controlled and uncontrolled transactions could materially affect the price even though the nature of the business activities undertaken may be sufficiently similar to generate the same overall profit margin. When this is the case, some adjustments will be appropriate. As discussed below in paragraph 2.17, the extent and reliability of such adjustments will affect the relative reliability of the analysis under the CUP method.
In considering whether controlled and uncontrolled transactions are comparable, regard should be had to the effect on price of broader business functions other than just product comparability (i.e. factors relevant to determining comparability under Chapter I). Where differences exist between the controlled and uncontrolled transactions or between the enterprises undertaking those transactions, it may be difficult to determine reasonably accurate adjustments to eliminate the effect on price. The difficulties that arise in attempting to make reasonably accurate adjustments should not routinely preclude the possible application of the CUP method. Practical considerations dictate a more flexible approach to enable the CUP method to be used and to be supplemented as necessary by other appropriate methods, all of which should be evaluated according to their relative accuracy. Every effort should be made to adjust the data so that it may be used appropriately in a CUP method. As for any method, the relative reliability of the CUP method is affected by the degree of accuracy with which adjustments can be made to achieve comparability.
Subject to the guidance in paragraph 2.2 for selecting the most appropriate transfer pricing method in the circumstances of a particular case, the CUP method would generally be an appropriate transfer pricing method for establishing the arm’s length price for the transfer of commodities between associated enterprises. The reference to “commodities” shall be understood to encompass physical products for which a quoted price is used as a reference by independent parties in the industry to set prices in uncontrolled transactions. The term “quoted price” refers to the price of the commodity in the relevant period obtained in an international or domestic commodity exchange market. In this context, a quoted price also includes prices obtained from recognised and transparent price reporting or statistical agencies, or from governmental price-setting agencies, where such indexes are used as a reference by unrelated parties to determine prices in transactions between them.
Under the CUP method, the arm’s length price for commodity transactions may be determined by reference to comparable uncontrolled transactions and by reference to comparable uncontrolled arrangements represented by the quoted price. Quoted commodity prices generally reflect the agreement between independent buyers and sellers in the market on the price for a specific type and amount of commodity, traded under specific conditions at a certain point in time. A relevant factor in determining the appropriateness of using the quoted price for a specific commodity is the extent to which the quoted price is widely and routinely used in the ordinary course of business in the industry to negotiate prices for uncontrolled transactions comparable to the controlled transaction. Accordingly, depending on the facts and circumstances of each case, quoted prices can be considered as a reference for pricing commodity transactions between associated enterprises. Taxpayers and tax administrations should be consistent in their application of the appropriately selected quoted price.
For the CUP method to be reliably applied to commodity transactions, the economically relevant characteristics of the controlled transaction and the uncontrolled transactions or the uncontrolled arrangements represented by the quoted price need to be comparable. For commodities, the economically relevant characteristics include, among others, the physical features and quality of the commodity; the contractual terms of the controlled transaction, such as volumes traded, period of the arrangements, the timing and terms of delivery, transportation, insurance, and foreign currency terms. For some commodities, certain economically relevant characteristics (e.g. prompt delivery) may lead to a premium or a discount. If the quoted price is used as a reference for determining the arm’s length price or price range, the standardised contracts which stipulate specifications on the basis of which commodities are traded on the exchange and which result in a quoted price for the commodity may be relevant. Where there are differences between the conditions of the controlled transaction and the conditions of the uncontrolled transactions or the conditions determining the quoted price for the commodity that materially affect the price of the commodity transactions being examined, reasonably accurate adjustments should be made to ensure that the economically relevant characteristics of the transactions are comparable. Contributions made in the form of functions performed, assets used and risks assumed by other entities in the supply chain should be compensated in accordance with the guidance provided in these Guidelines.
In order to assist tax administrations in conducting an informed examination of the taxpayer’s transfer pricing practices, taxpayers should provide reliable evidence and document, as part of their transfer pricing documentation, the price-setting policy for commodity transactions, the information needed to justify price adjustments based on the comparable uncontrolled transactions or comparable uncontrolled arrangements represented by the quoted price and any other relevant information, such as pricing formulas used, third party end-customer agreements, premia or discounts applied, pricing date, supply chain information, and information prepared for non-tax purposes.
A particularly relevant factor for commodity transactions determined by reference to the quoted price is the pricing date, which refers to the specific time, date or time period (e.g. a specified range of dates over which an average price is determined) selected by the parties to determine the price for commodity transactions. Where the taxpayer can provide reliable evidence of the pricing date agreed by the associated enterprises in the controlled commodity transaction at the time the transaction was entered into (e.g. proposals and acceptances, contracts or registered contracts, or other documents setting out the terms of the arrangements may constitute reliable evidence) and this is consistent with the actual conduct of the parties or with other facts of the case, in accordance with the guidance in Section D of Chapter I on accurately delineating the actual transaction, tax administrations should determine the price for the commodity transaction by reference to the pricing date agreed by the associated enterprises. If the pricing date specified in any written agreement between the associated enterprises is inconsistent with the actual conduct of the parties or with other facts of the case, tax administrations may determine a different pricing date consistent with those other facts of the case and what independent enterprises would have agreed in comparable circumstances (taking into considerations industry practices). When the taxpayer does not provide reliable evidence of the pricing date agreed by the associated enterprises in the controlled transaction and the tax administration cannot otherwise determine a different pricing date under the guidance in Section D of Chapter I, tax administrations may deem the pricing date for the commodity transaction on the basis of the evidence available to the tax administration; this may be the date of shipment as evidenced by the bill of lading or equivalent document depending on the means of transport. This would mean that the price for the commodities being transacted would be determined by reference to the average quoted price on the shipment date, subject to any appropriate comparability adjustments based on the information available to the tax administration. It would be important to permit resolution of cases of double taxation arising from application of the deemed pricing date through access to the mutual agreement procedure under the applicable Treaty.
The following examples illustrate the application of the CUP method, including situations where adjustments may need to be made to uncontrolled transactions to make them comparable uncontrolled transactions.
The CUP method is a particularly reliable method where an independent enterprise sells the same product as is sold between two associated enterprises. For example, an independent enterprise sells unbranded Colombian coffee beans of a similar type, quality, and quantity as those sold between two associated enterprises, assuming that the controlled and uncontrolled transactions occur at about the same time, at the same stage in the production/distribution chain, and under similar conditions. If the only available uncontrolled transaction involved unbranded Brazilian coffee beans, it would be appropriate to inquire whether the difference in the coffee beans has a material effect on the price. For example, it could be asked whether the source of coffee beans commands a premium or requires a discount generally in the open market. Such information may be obtainable from commodity markets or may be deduced from dealer prices. If this difference does have a material effect on price, some adjustments would be appropriate. If a reasonably accurate adjustment cannot be made, the reliability of the CUP method would be reduced, and it might be necessary to select another less direct method instead.
One illustrative case where adjustments may be required is where the circumstances surrounding controlled and uncontrolled sales are identical, except for the fact that the controlled sales price is a delivered price and the uncontrolled sales are made f.o.b. factory. The differences in terms of transportation and insurance generally have a definite and reasonably ascertainable effect on price. Therefore, to determine the uncontrolled sales price, adjustment should be made to the price for the difference in delivery terms.
As another example, assume a taxpayer sells 1000 tons of a product for $80 per ton to an associated enterprise in its MNE group, and at the same time sells 500 tons of the same product for $100 per ton to an independent enterprise. This case requires an evaluation of whether the different volumes should result in an adjustment of the transfer price. The relevant market should be researched by analysing transactions in similar products to determine typical volume discounts.
The resale price method begins with the price at which a product that has been purchased from an associated enterprise is resold to an independent enterprise. This price (the resale price) is then reduced by an appropriate gross margin on this price (the “resale price margin”) representing the amount out of which the reseller would seek to cover its selling and other operating expenses and, in the light of the functions performed (taking into account assets used and risks assumed), make an appropriate profit. What is left after subtracting the gross margin can be regarded, after adjustment for other costs associated with the purchase of the product (e.g. customs duties), as an arm’s length price for the original transfer of property between the associated enterprises. This method is probably most useful where it is applied to marketing operations.
The resale price margin of the reseller in the controlled transaction may be determined by reference to the resale price margin that the same reseller earns on items purchased and sold in comparable uncontrolled transactions (“internal comparable”). Also, the resale price margin earned by an independent enterprise in comparable uncontrolled transactions may serve as a guide (“external comparable”). Where the reseller is carrying on a general brokerage business, the resale price margin may be related to a brokerage fee, which is usually calculated as a percentage of the sales price of the product sold. The determination of the resale price margin in such a case should take into account whether the broker is acting as an agent or a principal.
Following the principles in Chapter I, an uncontrolled transaction is comparable to a controlled transaction (i.e. it is a comparable uncontrolled transaction) for purposes of the resale price method if one of two conditions is met: a) none of the differences (if any) between the transactions being compared or between the enterprises undertaking those transactions could materially affect the resale price margin in the open market; or, b) reasonably accurate adjustments can be made to eliminate the material effects of such differences. In making comparisons for purposes of the resale price method, fewer adjustments are normally needed to account for product differences than under the CUP method, because minor product differences are less likely to have as material an effect on profit margins as they do on price.
In a market economy, the compensation for performing similar functions would tend to be equalized across different activities. In contrast, prices for different products would tend to equalize only to the extent that those products were substitutes for one another. Because gross profit margins represent gross compensation, after the cost of sales for specific functions performed (taking into account assets used and risks assumed), product differences are less significant. For example, the facts may indicate that a distribution company performs the same functions (taking into account assets used and risks assumed) selling toasters as it would selling blenders, and hence in a market economy there should be a similar level of compensation for the two activities. However, consumers would not consider toasters and blenders to be particularly close substitutes, and hence there would be no reason to expect their prices to be the same.
Although broader product differences can be allowed in the resale price method, the property transferred in the controlled transaction must still be compared to that being transferred in the uncontrolled transaction. Broader differences are more likely to be reflected in differences in functions performed between the parties to the controlled and uncontrolled transactions. While less product comparability may be required in using the resale price method, it remains the case that closer comparability of products will produce a better result. For example, where there is a valuable or unique intangible involved in the transaction, product similarity may assume greater importance and particular attention should be paid to it to ensure that the comparison is valid.
It may be appropriate to give more weight to other attributes of comparability discussed in Chapter I (i.e. functions performed, economic circumstances, etc.) when the profit margin relates primarily to those other attributes and only secondarily to the particular product being transferred. This circumstance will usually exist where the profit margin is determined for an associated enterprise that has not used unique assets (such as valuable, unique intangibles) to add significant value to the product being transferred. Thus, where uncontrolled and controlled transactions are comparable in all characteristics other than the product itself, the resale price method might produce a more reliable measure of arm’s length conditions than the CUP method, unless reasonably accurate adjustments could be made to account for differences in the products transferred. The same point is true for the cost plus method, discussed below.
When the resale price margin used is that of an independent enterprise in a comparable transaction, the reliability of the resale price method may be affected if there are material differences in the ways the associated enterprises and independent enterprises carry out their businesses. Such differences could include those that affect the level of costs taken into account (e.g. the differences could include the effect of management efficiency on levels and ranges of inventory maintenance), which may well have an impact on the profitability of an enterprise but which may not necessarily affect the price at which it buys or sells its goods or services in the open market. These types of characteristics should be analysed in determining whether an uncontrolled transaction is comparable for purposes of applying the resale price method.
The resale price method also depends on comparability of functions performed (taking into account assets used and risks assumed). It may become less reliable when there are differences between the controlled and uncontrolled transactions and the parties to the transactions, and those differences have a material effect on the attribute being used to measure arm’s length conditions, in this case the resale price margin realised. Where there are material differences that affect the gross margins earned in the controlled and uncontrolled transactions (e.g. in the nature of the functions performed by the parties to the transactions), adjustments should be made to account for such differences. The extent and reliability of those adjustments will affect the relative reliability of the analysis under the resale price method in any particular case.
An appropriate resale price margin is easiest to determine where the reseller does not add substantially to the value of the product. In contrast, it may be more difficult to use the resale price method to arrive at an arm’s length price where, before resale, the goods are further processed or incorporated into a more complicated product so that their identity is lost or transformed (e.g. where components are joined together in finished or semi-finished goods). Another example where the resale price margin requires particular care is where the reseller contributes substantially to the creation or maintenance of intangible property associated with the product (e.g. trademarks or trade names) which are owned by an associated enterprise. In such cases, the contribution of the goods originally transferred to the value of the final product cannot be easily evaluated.
A resale price margin is more accurate where it is realised within a short time of the reseller’s purchase of the goods. The more time that elapses between the original purchase and resale the more likely it is that other factors – changes in the market, in rates of exchange, in costs, etc. – will need to be taken into account in any comparison.
It should be expected that the amount of the resale price margin will be influenced by the level of activities performed by the reseller. This level of activities can range widely from the case where the reseller performs only minimal services as a forwarding agent to the case where the reseller takes on the full risk of ownership together with the full responsibility for and the risks involved in advertising, marketing, distributing and guaranteeing the goods, financing stocks, and other connected services. If the reseller in the controlled transaction does not carry on a substantial commercial activity but only transfers the goods to a third party, the resale price margin could, in light of the functions performed, be a small one. The resale price margin could be higher where it can be demonstrated that the reseller has some special expertise in the marketing of such goods, in effect bears special risks, or contributes substantially to the creation or maintenance of intangible property associated with the product. However, the level of activity performed by the reseller, whether minimal or substantial, would need to be well supported by relevant evidence. This would include justification for marketing expenditures that might be considered unreasonably high; for example, when part or most of the promotional expenditure was clearly incurred as a service performed in favour of the legal owner of the trademark. In such a case the cost plus method may well supplement the resale price method.
Where the reseller is clearly carrying on a substantial commercial activity in addition to the resale activity itself, then a reasonably substantial resale price margin might be expected. If the reseller in its activities employs certain assets (e.g. intangibles used by the reseller, such as its marketing organisation), it may be inappropriate to evaluate the arm’s length conditions in the controlled transaction using an unadjusted resale price margin derived from uncontrolled transactions in which the uncontrolled reseller does not employ similar assets. If the reseller possesses valuable marketing intangibles, the resale price margin in the uncontrolled transaction may underestimate the profit to which the reseller in the controlled transaction is entitled, unless the comparable uncontrolled transaction involves the same reseller or a reseller with similarly valuable marketing intangibles.
In a case where there is a chain of distribution of goods through an intermediate company, it may be relevant for tax administrations to look not only at the resale price of goods that have been purchased from the intermediate company but also at the price that such company pays to its own supplier and the functions that the intermediate company undertakes. There could well be practical difficulties in obtaining this information and the true function of the intermediate company may be difficult to determine. If it cannot be demonstrated that the intermediate company either assumes an economically significant risk or performs an economic function in the chain that has increased the value of the goods, then any element in the price that is claimed to be attributable to the activities of the intermediate company would reasonably be attributed elsewhere in the MNE group, because independent enterprises would not normally have allowed such a company to share in the profits of the transaction.
The resale price margin should also be expected to vary according to whether the reseller has the exclusive right to resell the goods. Arrangements of this kind are found in transactions between independent enterprises and may influence the margin. Thus, this type of exclusive right should be taken into account in any comparison. The value to be attributed to such an exclusive right will depend to some extent upon its geographical scope and the existence and relative competitiveness of possible substitute goods. The arrangement may be valuable to both the supplier and the reseller in an arm’s length transaction. For instance, it may stimulate the reseller to greater efforts to sell the supplier’s particular line of goods. On the other hand, such an arrangement may provide the reseller with a kind of monopoly with the result that the reseller possibly can realize a substantial turn over without great effort. Accordingly, the effect of this factor upon the appropriate resale price margin must be examined with care in each case. See also paragraphs 6.118 and 6.120.
Where the accounting practices differ from the controlled transaction to the uncontrolled transaction, appropriate adjustments should be made to the data used in calculating the resale price margin in order to ensure that the same types of costs are used in each case to arrive at the gross margin. For example, costs of R&D may be reflected in operating expenses or in costs of sales. The respective gross margins would not be comparable without appropriate adjustments.
Assume that there are two distributors selling the same product in the same market under the same brand name. Distributor A offers a warranty; Distributor B offers none. Distributor A is not including the warranty as part of a pricing strategy and so sells its product at a higher price resulting in a higher gross profit margin (if the costs of servicing the warranty are not taken into account) than that of Distributor B, which sells at a lower price. The two margins are not comparable until a reasonably accurate adjustment is made to account for that difference.
Assume that a warranty is offered with respect to all products so that the downstream price is uniform. Distributor C performs the warranty function but is, in fact, compensated by the supplier through a lower price. Distributor D does not perform the warranty function which is performed by the supplier (products are sent back to the factory). However, Distributor D’s supplier charges D a higher price than is charged to Distributor C. If Distributor C accounts for the cost of performing the warranty function as a cost of goods sold, then the adjustment in the gross profit margins for the differences is automatic. However, if the warranty expenses are accounted for as operating expenses, there is a distortion in the margins which must be corrected. The reasoning in this case would be that, if D performed the warranty itself, its supplier would reduce the transfer price, and therefore, D’s gross profit margin would be greater.
A company sells a product through independent distributors in five countries in which it has no subsidiaries. The distributors simply market the product and do not perform any additional work. In one country, the company has set up a subsidiary. Because this particular market is of strategic importance, the company requires its subsidiary to sell only its product and to perform technical applications for the customers. Even if all other facts and circumstances are similar, if the margins are derived from independent enterprises that do not have exclusive sales arrangements or perform technical applications like those undertaken by the subsidiary, it is necessary to consider whether any adjustments must be made to achieve comparability.
The cost plus method begins with the costs incurred by the supplier of property (or services) in a controlled transaction for property transferred or services provided to an associated purchaser. An appropriate cost plus mark-up is then added to this cost, to make an appropriate profit in light of the functions performed and the market conditions. What is arrived at after adding the cost plus mark up to the above costs may be regarded as an arm’s length price of the original controlled transaction. This method probably is most useful where semi finished goods are sold between associated parties, where associated parties have concluded joint facility agreements or long-term buy-and-supply arrangements, or where the controlled transaction is the provision of services.
The cost plus mark-up of the supplier in the controlled transaction should ideally be established by reference to the cost plus mark-up that the same supplier earns in comparable uncontrolled transactions (“internal comparable”). In addition, the cost plus mark-up that would have been earned in comparable transactions by an independent enterprise may serve as a guide (“external comparable”).
Following the principles in Chapter I, an uncontrolled transaction is comparable to a controlled transaction (i.e. it is a comparable uncontrolled transaction) for purposes of the cost plus method if one of two conditions is met: a) none of the differences (if any) between the transactions being compared or between the enterprises undertaking those transactions materially affect the cost plus mark up in the open market; or, b) reasonably accurate adjustments can be made to eliminate the material effects of such differences. In determining whether a transaction is a comparable uncontrolled transaction for the purposes of the cost plus method, the same principles apply as described in paragraphs 2.29-2.34 for the resale price method. Thus, fewer adjustments may be necessary to account for product differences under the cost plus method than the CUP method, and it may be appropriate to give more weight to other factors of comparability described in Chapter I, some of which may have a more significant effect on the cost plus mark-up than they do on price. As under the resale price method (see paragraph 2.34), where there are differences that materially affect the cost plus mark ups earned in the controlled and uncontrolled transactions (for example in the nature of the functions performed by the parties to the transactions), reasonably accurate adjustments should be made to account for such differences. The extent and reliability of those adjustments will affect the relative reliability of the analysis under the cost plus method in particular cases.
For example, assume that Company A manufactures and sells toasters to a distributor that is an associated enterprise, that Company B manufactures and sells irons to a distributor that is an independent enterprise, and that the profit margins on the manufacture of basic toasters and irons are generally the same in the small household appliance industry. (The use of the cost plus method here presumes that there are no highly similar independent toaster manufacturers). If the cost plus method were being applied, the mark ups being compared in the controlled and uncontrolled transactions would be the difference between the selling price by the manufacturer to the distributor and the costs of manufacturing the product, divided by the costs of manufacturing the product. However, Company A may be much more efficient in its manufacturing processes than Company B thereby enabling it to have lower costs. As a result, even if Company A were making irons instead of toasters and charging the same price as Company B is charging for irons (i.e. no special condition were to exist), it would be appropriate for Company A’s profit level to be higher than that of Company B. Thus, unless it is possible to adjust for the effect of this difference on the profit, the application of the cost plus method would not be wholly reliable in this context.
The cost plus method presents some difficulties in proper application, particularly in the determination of costs. Although it is true that an enterprise must cover its costs over a period of time to remain in business, those costs may not be the determinant of the appropriate profit in a specific case for any one year. While in many cases companies are driven by competition to scale down prices by reference to the cost of creating the relevant goods or providing the relevant service, there are other circumstances where there is no discernible link between the level of costs incurred and a market price (e.g. where a valuable discovery has been made and the owner has incurred only small research costs in making it).
In addition, when applying the cost plus method one should pay attention to apply a comparable mark up to a comparable cost basis. For instance, if the supplier to which reference is made in applying the cost plus method in carrying out its activities employs leased business assets, the cost basis might not be comparable without adjustment if the supplier in the controlled transaction owns its business assets. The cost plus method relies upon a comparison of the mark up on costs achieved in a controlled transaction and the mark up on costs achieved in one or more comparable uncontrolled transactions. Therefore, differences between the controlled and uncontrolled transactions that have an effect on the size of the mark up must be analysed to determine what adjustments should be made to the uncontrolled transactions’ respective mark up.