The Cost Plus Method in Transfer Pricing

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The Cost Plus Method is a widely used approach in transfer pricing for determining arm’s length prices between related entities. This method is particularly useful for manufacturers, service providers, and other businesses that add value to goods or services before transferring them to related parties.

How the Cost Plus Method Works

The Cost Plus Method calculates an arm’s length price by adding an appropriate profit mark-up to the costs incurred by the supplier in a controlled transaction. This mark-up should reflect the functions performed, risks assumed, and assets used by the supplier.

The basic formula for the Cost Plus Method is:

Arm’s Length Price = Cost Base + (Cost Base×Appropriate Mark up)

How to Apply the Cost Plus Method

Applying the Cost Plus Method involves several steps:

  1. Identify Costs: Determine all direct and indirect costs associated with the production of goods or services.
  2. Select Comparable Companies: Find companies with similar functions, assets, and risks to determine a suitable markup percentage.
  3. Calculate Markup: Based on the analysis of comparable companies, calculate an appropriate markup percentage.
  4. Determine Transfer Price: Apply the markup percentage to the total costs to establish the transfer price.

When to Use the Cost Plus Method

The Cost Plus Method is most suitable in the following scenarios:

  1. Manufacture and sale of tangible goods to related parties
  2. Provision of services to related entities
  3. Transfer of semi-finished goods between associated enterprises
  4. Long-term buy-and-supply arrangements between related parties

This method is particularly effective when the controlled transaction involves routine manufacturing or service provision without significant intangible assets or unique contributions.

Advantages and Limitations of the Cost Plus Method


  • Relatively easy to apply for routine functions
  • Less reliant on product comparability than other methods
  • Useful when comparable uncontrolled prices are unavailable


  • Difficulty in determining an appropriate cost base
  • Challenges in finding comparable mark-ups
  • May not capture the full value of intangible assets

Implementing the Cost Plus Method

To effectively implement the Cost Plus Method:

  1. Analyze Functions and Risks: Conduct a thorough functional analysis to understand the roles and risks of each entity involved.
  2. Define the Cost Base: Clearly identify which costs should be included in the base. This typically includes direct and indirect costs but excludes operating expenses.
  3. Identify Comparables: Search for comparable uncontrolled transactions, either internal or external, to determine an appropriate mark-up.
  4. Adjust for Differences: Make necessary adjustments to account for differences between controlled and uncontrolled transactions.
  5. Document the Process: Maintain detailed documentation of your methodology, comparables selection, and any adjustments made.

Compliance and Best Practices

When using the Cost Plus Method:

  • Ensure consistency in accounting practices between tested party and comparables
  • Regularly review and update your transfer pricing policies
  • Consider using multiple methods to corroborate results
  • Stay informed about local and international transfer pricing regulations

Examples of the Cost Plus Method

Example 1: Manufacturing

Company A, based in the US, manufactures electronic components for its subsidiary Company B in Canada. The cost of production for each component is $100.

  1. Identify comparable transactions: Independent manufacturers in the same industry have a mark-up of 25% on similar products.
  2. Apply the mark-up: $100 + ($100 × 25%) = $125

The arm’s length transfer price for each component from Company A to Company B should be $125.

Example 2: Service Provision

Company X provides accounting services to its related party Company Y. The cost of providing these services is $10,000 per month.

  1. Identify comparable transactions: Independent accounting firms charge a 30% mark-up for similar services.
  2. Apply the mark-up: $10,000 + ($10,000 × 30%) = $13,000

The arm’s length transfer price for Company X’s services to Company Y should be $13,000 per month.

Why Consult Experts?

While the Cost Plus Method may seem straightforward, its proper application requires expertise in transfer pricing regulations, financial analysis, and industry-specific knowledge. Consulting experts is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Expertise: Experts have in-depth knowledge of global transfer pricing regulations and best practices.
  2. Customized Solutions: They provide tailored advice for multinational corporations and medium-sized enterprises aiming to refine their transfer pricing strategies.
  3. Risk Mitigation: Experts help identify and address potential transfer pricing risks before they become issues with tax authorities.
  4. Documentation Support: They assist in preparing comprehensive transfer pricing documentation that meets regulatory requirements.
  5. Audit Defense: In case of a transfer pricing audit, experts can provide valuable support and representation.
  6. Global Perspective: With experience across various jurisdictions, they can help ensure your transfer pricing policies are consistent and compliant worldwide.

In Closing

The Cost Plus Method is a valuable tool in transfer pricing, particularly for routine manufacturing and service transactions. However, its effective implementation requires careful consideration of various factors and compliance with complex regulations. Consulting with transfer pricing experts like TRM can provide businesses with the guidance and support needed to navigate these challenges successfully and maintain compliance in an ever-evolving global tax landscape.


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