By Stefanie Perrella (Managing Director, Duff & Phelps’, New York) and Zachary Held (Director, Duff & Phelps’, New York)
On February 11, 2020, the OECD released its Final Report, Transfer Pricing Guidance on Financial Transactions, (Final Guidance), which was simultaneously incorporated into the OECD Transfer Pricing Guidelines. With respect to inter-company loans, the new Chapter X of the Transfer Pricing Guidelines is not limited to considerations for interest rate pricing, but also includes a framework for assessing the instrument’s accurate delineation as debt. Going forward, taxpayers with lenders or borrowers in OECD countries should consider this new guidance and augment their documentation accordingly. Below are some of the items that these taxpayers should consider to offer a proactive defense of potentially scrutinized areas.
Chapter X is intended to provide guidance for OECD countries that choose to apply accurate delineation under Chapter 1 to determine debt characterization for federal income tax purpose. Para 10.12 of Chapter X includes a list of characteristics that “may be useful indicators” of the accurate delineation of advances of funds, including but not limited to a fixed repayment date, the obligation to pay interest, and enforcement rights of the lender. Taxpayers should ensure that inter-company loans have robust and legally binding agreements that articulate these relevant characteristics. These characteristics should also be emphasized in the loan documentation both in terms of form and substance. In other words, the taxpayer should make sure behavior is aligned and well documented such that these characteristics are not just labels/descriptions. Robust documentation on these characteristics and associated behaviors may be a general best practice even in the context of alternative debt characterization frameworks.
Debt Capacity Analysis
Chapter X suggests that a borrower’s ability to bear the amount of debt, based on good faith projections, is also an important consideration for debt characterization. It provides a specific example wherein an economic analysis demonstrates that a borrower would be unable to service the purported loan, in which case, the maximum amount that the borrower could service would be treated as debt for federal income tax purposes and the remainder would be recharacterized.
An economic analysis, such as a cash flow analysis presenting the projected ability to make ongoing payments and repay (or refinance) the principal, can be useful to avoid such recharacterization.
Chapter X notes that business strategies are a consideration for accurately delineating financial transactions and implies that the context of the financing (e.g., business purpose, industry standards) can have bearing on debt characterization. An example describes an entity that takes out a ten-year intercompany loan for short-term working capital needs, even though the multinational group usually addresses working capital needs using a one-year revolver. In this example, the borrower’s ten-year loan could be recharacterized as a one-year revolver, with the corresponding interest rate adjusted accordingly.
Taxpayers documenting intercompany loans should consider including a description of the context and business purpose of the loan to support the appropriateness of the purported characterization. Adding this detail could be especially important if the loan at issue differs from the general business policy or the terms of third-party debt of the multinational.
To accurately delineate a financial transaction, Chapter X highlights the necessity of a functional analysis to document the functions performed, assets used, and risks assumed by the parties. This largely entails a description of the decision-making process that both the lender and borrower undertook in deciding to enter into the subject transaction, given reasonable alternatives. For a lender this could mean analyzing the borrower’s creditworthiness and for the borrower this could mean supporting that a specific debt amount was optimal given their funding needs and financial standing. Crucially, if the lender is deemed to not be the entity that makes financing decisions (e.g., if these are made by a central treasury group), guidance suggests that the lender could be entitled to no more than a risk-free return.
While it is our experience that documentation on financial transactions has historically been “light” on functional analysis, the new guidance stresses the importance of the functional analysis for both accurate delineation and pricing.
Chapter X notes that the impact of implicit support should be a matter of judgment based on factors such as the relative importance of the entity to the multinational group. To the extent that an interest rate (or guarantee fee) is tied to a specific credit rating, taxpayers should consider documenting how implicit support was considered and the reasons why the assumed impact of implicit support (or lack thereof) is appropriate.
While Chapter X does not set specific documentation expectations, the above are some of our takeaways on how taxpayers can augment their documentation in light of the new financial transactions guidance.