Where a company, which has acquired investment units in US dollar denominated equity funds, writes down the value of the investment units to their fair market value following an unfavourable development in the foreign currency exchange rate, the company must add the write down back off-balance sheet.
The question before the tax courts was whether foreign currency exchange losses arising from the valuation of investment units could be recognised in calculating the income for corporation tax purposes. The plaintiff (a German limited company – GmbH) had valued the investment units at their lower fair market value as at the balance sheet dates. (This was a permissible treatment.) The company sold the investment units and made a profit in US dollar terms. However, due to the fall in the foreign currency exchange rate, a loss was incurred in Euro terms. The tax office recognised the loss as such, but added it back off-balance sheet according to Section 8b (3) 3rd Sentence Corporation Tax Act. This treatment was confirmed by both the tax court and the Supreme Tax Court.
Reduction of profits arising from write-downs to fair market value are to be neutralised off-balance sheet.
According to Section 8 (2) of the Investment Tax Act the investor’s gain arising from the shares during the time of ownership (i.e. the difference between the gain on the shares as at the valuation date and the gain as at the date of acquisition – “pro rata temporis gain”) is relevant for the determination of the level of the off-balance sheet add-back. According to the Supreme Tax Court such pro rata temporis loss had been incurred on the shares. Such a reduction in value does not only occur where the stock market price of the shares held by the investment fund goes down, but also where the value of the shares at the balance sheet date has sunk because of a fall in the foreign currency exchange rate. For tax purposes no differentiation is to be made between losses incurred through changes in the stock market price and losses incurred through changes in the foreign currency exchange rates. According to the Supreme Tax Court the purpose of the Investment Tax Act is – following the so-called investment tax law transparency principle – to put investors in funds on a par with direct investors. This should also apply to investments in equity funds. Thus an off-balance sheet add back is also required where the investor decides to write down the value of a fund unit due to a foreign currency exchange loss to ensure an equal tax treatment with direct investors.
Existing symmetry of the rules excludes a breach of EU law
The Supreme Tax Court took the view that the off balance sheet add-back did not amount to a restriction of the EU basic freedoms. The add-back did indeed mean that, ultimately, the foreign currency exchange rate loss was not recognised for tax purposes. However, in the opposite case of an exchange rate gain, which is reflected through a pro rata temporis gain, the law provides for a tax exemption (Section 8 (1) and (3) of the Investment Tax Act and Section 8b (2) Corporation Tax Act).
Supreme Tax Court decision ( I R 63/15) of 21 September 2016, published on 15 February 2017
The federal government and federal states have agreed unanimously upon the criteria for a revision of the tax treatment of existing cum/cum structures. The tax authorities of the federal states could then – according to comprehensive and standardised criteria – attack cum/cum transactions, which were executed before the change in the law as at 31 December 2015.
The agreement was reached when the heads of the tax departments of the respective federal and states Ministries of Finance met in Berlin between 1 and 3 March 2017. A new Ministry of Finance circular will be prepared to implement the decision. The existing Ministry of Finance circular of 11 November 2016 will continue to apply to the beneficial attribution of securities transactions.
On 22 February 2017 the federal government approved a draft bill to implement both the fourth EU money laundering directive and the EU regulation on the transfer of funds as well as to reorganise the Central Financial Transactions Investigation Agency. The intention is to up-date and strengthen measures developed to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
The Central Financial Transactions Investigation Agency (“Zentralstelle für Finanztransaktionsuntersuchungen” – “FIU”) will be restructured and will obtain more staff
Previously the FIU was known as the Central Authority for Suspect Reporting (“Zentralamt für Verdachtsmeldungen”) at the Federal Police Department within the Ministry of the Interior. It will now be transferred to the General Customs Directorate, i.e. within the Ministry of Finance. Furthermore its responsibilities and competencies will be revised according to the provisions of the fourth EU directive on money laundering. One area of focus will lie in operative and strategic analysis.
In addition the FIU should, for the first time, have a filter function, the aim of which is to reduce the burden on the prosecution authorities. In future only credible suspicions should be passed on to the prosecutor.
Draft bill lays the foundations for a central electronic transparency register
This is intended to disclose information on the beneficial owners of an enterprise. The aim being more transparency and thus to hinder the abusive use of companies and trusts for the purpose of money laundering and offences underlying it, such as tax evasion and the financing of terrorism. The bureaucracy for businesses should however be kept at a minimum by the utilising information on any interests held already available in existing registers, such as the commercial register.
Penalty levels to be significantly increased
Penalties for serious, repeated and systematic offending are to be significantly increased to secure compliance with the money laundering regulations. Furthermore, in future the authorities will publish all penalty notices, which can no longer be disputed, on their website.
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On 25 January 2017 the federal government approved a draft of the Act to Combat Harmful Tax Practices in connection with the Licensing of Rights. The intention is to prevent multinational businesses from transferring their royalty income to countries, which offer such income preferential treatment. Such preferential tax regimes (so-called Licence Boxes, Patent Boxes or IP-Boxes) are considered not to meet the demands of the OECD and G20 BEPS Project. A new provision is to be introduced to the Income Tax Act (ITA) for this purpose; the new provision should be applied to expenses arising after 31 December 2017. Continue reading
2017 seems to be the year for tax reform: There are currently major changes to the US tax system discussed that may also have a significant impact on German companies. German tax consequences of potential restructurings in response to the upcoming US tax reform must therefore be considered already at an early stage and the current developments be constantly monitored. Continue reading