Jeff Kadet has a new article at Tax Analysts [gated] entitled Expansion of the Profit-Split Method: The Wave of the Future, in which he discusses the so-called transactional profit split method of transfer pricing, which could be quite a lot more like formulary apportionment than it is like transfer pricing. Recall that the OECD really does not want countries to switch to formulary apportionment, even if that might end up being more effective at producing revenue at less administrative cost. But the profit split method might offer a way out, with a little tweaking. Here is the abstract:
Recognizing the reality that multinational corporations are centrally managed and not groups of entities that operate independently of one another, the OECD base erosion and profit-shifting project is considering expanded use of the profit-split method. This article provides background on why expanded use of the profit-split method is sorely needed. In particular, resource-constrained tax authorities in many countries are unable to administer or intelligently analyze and contest transfer pricing results presented by multinational groups. Most importantly, this article suggests a simplified profit-split approach using set concrete and objective allocation keys for commonly used business models that should be welcomed by multinational groups and tax authorities alike.And here are a few excerpts:
December 2014 saw the OECD issuing several base erosion and profit-shifting discussion drafts, one of which was titled "BEPS Action 10: Discussion Draft on the Use of Profit Splits in the Context of Global Value Chains" ....
Despite all the continuing rhetoric about how arm's-length pricing and the separate entity principle are sacrosanct, there are compelling reasons why the OECD BEPS project has focused on the possible expanded use of the profit-split method, a method that clearly flies in the face of these icons. ...
[A] combination of factors has strongly motivated the highly successful tax structures that have significantly lowered the effective tax rates of multinational corporations (MNCs) and eroded the tax bases of many countries. The existence of these factors means that some of the transfer pricing methods are a part of the problem; they are not a part of a solution. These factors include ... [t]he Separate Entity Principle ... Fragmentation ... Respect of Related-Party Contracts ... The Arm's-Length Standard... the Inability to Effectively Audit MNC Transfer Pricing ... [and other issues].
...Paragraph 2.108 of the OECD transfer pricing guidelines gives a concise statement of what the profit-split method is. It states:
The transactional profit split method seeks to eliminate the effect on profits of special conditions made or imposed in a controlled transaction (or in controlled transactions that are appropriate to aggregate . . .) by determining the division of profits that independent enterprises would have expected to realize from engaging in the transaction or transactions. The transactional profit split method first identifies the profits to be split for the associated enterprises from the controlled transactions in which the associated enterprises are engaged (the "combined profits"). . . . It then splits those combined profits between the associated enterprises on an economically valid basis that approximates the division of profits that would have been anticipated and reflected in an agreement made at arm's length.
Additional guidance in the existing guidelines (paragraphs 2.132ff) makes clear that the criteria or allocation keys on which the combined profits are split should be "independent of transfer pricing policy formulation." Hence, these criteria and allocation keys "should be based on objective data (e.g. sales to independent parties), not on data relating to the remuneration of controlled transactions (e.g. sales to associated enterprises)." Paragraph 2.135 makes this objective basis clear by stating:
In practice, allocation keys based on assets/capital (operating assets, fixed assets, intangible assets, capital employed) or costs (relative spending and/or investment in key areas such as research and development, engineering, marketing) are often used. Other allocation keys based for instance on incremental sales, headcounts (number of individuals involved in the key functions that generate value to the transaction), time spent by a certain group of employees if there is a strong correlation between the time spent and the creation of the combined profits, number of servers, data storage, floor area of retail points, etc. may be appropriate depending on the facts and circumstances of the transactions.
Further discussion in the guidelines provides various approaches to splitting the combined profits among the relevant group members. While these approaches are not detailed here, the point is that the approaches that were set out and discussed require a facts and circumstances case-by-case analysis before they can be implemented.Kadet suggests that this facts & circumstances approach should be shelved in favour of developing a detailed set of objective allocation keys tailored specific types of business, and that for these businesses, the profit split method ought to be presumptive. In other words, profit split is another word for apportionment; some types of businesses are so integrated that apportionment is the best way to allocate profits to the right jurisdiction; what is needed is a formulaic approach that tax administrations can administer. He notes:
The application of such rules should result in a reduction in complex BEPS-motivated structures since all combined profits will be spread among the group members that actually conduct activities with little or none left within low-taxed group members that do not conduct economic activity and thereby contribute little if anything to value creation. In sum, a simplified and standardized approach for each common business model will provide significant benefits as well as give results that are fair to MNCs and all relevant governments.He then goes on to provide a couple of examples taken from the DD10, one involving an internet service provider and the other featuring a manufacturer of R&D-intensive products. In the former, allocation keys include location of customers and workers; in the latter, they include location of customers and key workers (weighted at 25% each) and location of manufacturing operations (weighted at 50%). This is a fairly detailed discussion and well worth reading in full. I'll be interested to see how this idea develops.