The Importance of Thorough Economic Analysis in Transfer Pricing

This article leads off the article: Essential Components of Transfer Pricing Documentation.

Transfer pricing plays a pivotal role in determining the prices of goods and services exchanged between related entities within a multinational corporation. A thorough economic analysis is essential to justify transfer pricing’s arm’s length nature. This analysis ensures compliance with tax regulations, optimizes profit allocation, and mitigates risks associated with tax disputes.

The Arm’s Length Principle

The arm’s length principle is the cornerstone of transfer pricing. It mandates that transactions between related parties should be conducted as if they were between unrelated parties, ensuring fair profit allocation and preventing tax base erosion. The OECD endorses this principle, which is a global standard for transfer pricing.

READ: The Arm’s Length Principle in Transfer Pricing

Importance of Economic Analysis

Justifying Arm’s Length Pricing

A robust economic analysis provides the foundation for justifying that transfer prices are at arm’s length. This involves:

  • Applying the Chosen Transfer Pricing Method: It is critical to select an appropriate transfer pricing method (see Application of Transfer Pricing Methods below). Each method has its own set of criteria and applicability depending on the nature of the transaction and available data.
  • Considering Relevant Economic Factors: These factors include profit levels, cost structures, market conditions, and industry trends. For instance, a comparability analysis might involve comparing the profit margins of related transactions with those of unrelated transactions in similar market conditions.

Application of Transfer Pricing Methods

Several transfer pricing methods can be applied, each requiring detailed economic analysis. These methods include:

  1. Comparable Uncontrolled Price (CUP) Method
  2. Resale Price Method
  3. Cost Plus Method
  4. Transactional Net Margin Method (TNMM)
  5. Profit Split Method

Each method demands a rigorous analysis of various economic factors to validate the pricing strategy.

Compliance with Regulations

Economic analysis ensures that transfer pricing documentation meets the stringent requirements set by tax authorities. This documentation typically includes:

  • Functional Analysis: Identifying the functions performed, assets used, and risks each related entity assumes.
  • Comparability Analysis: Benchmarking against similar transactions between unrelated entities to demonstrate that the prices are at arm’s length.

Profit Optimisation and Risk Mitigation

Proper transfer pricing allows multinational corporations to allocate profits efficiently among their subsidiaries, optimizing global tax liabilities. It also helps avoid costly disputes with tax authorities, reducing the risk of penalties and reputational damage.

How to Conduct a Thorough Economic Analysis

Consideration of Relevant Economic Factors

  • Profit Levels: Assessing profit levels is essential in determining whether the transfer prices reflect arm’s length conditions. Economic analysis involves comparing the profitability of related-party transactions with that of comparable uncontrolled transactions.
  • Cost Structures: Understanding cost structures is crucial in transfer pricing. This involves analyzing the cost of production, distribution, and other expenses to ensure that the transfer prices include appropriate margins.
  • Market Conditions: Market conditions, including supply and demand dynamics, competition, and economic cycles, significantly impact transfer pricing. Economic analysis considers these factors to align transfer prices with current market realities.
  • Industry Trends: Industry-specific trends, such as technological advancements and regulatory changes, influence transfer pricing. A thorough economic analysis accounts for these trends to ensure that transfer prices remain competitive and compliant.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Identify Controlled Transactions: Start by identifying all intercompany transactions that fall under transfer pricing regulations.
  2. Gather Relevant Data: Collect financial and non-financial data related to these transactions.
  3. Perform Functional and Comparability Analyses: Assess the functions, assets, and risks associated with each entity and identify comparable transactions or companies.
  4. Calculate and Document Transfer Prices: Apply the selected transfer pricing method to calculate and document the arm’s length pricing.
  5. Review and Update Documentation: Regularly review and update the documentation to reflect changes in business operations or regulatory requirements.

Basic Examples of Economic Analysis in Transfer Pricing

Example 1: Comparable Uncontrolled Price (CUP) Method

Scenario: Software Licensing

A software company, SoftTech Inc., sells software licenses to both related and unrelated parties. To determine the arm’s length price for licenses sold to its subsidiary, SoftTech Canada, the company uses the CUP method.


  1. Identify Comparable Transactions: SoftTech Inc. reviews its sales records and identifies that it sells the same software licenses to unrelated third-party companies.
  2. Compare Prices: The price charged to unrelated third-party companies is $1,000 per license. SoftTech Inc. charges its subsidiary, SoftTech Canada, $950 per license.
  3. Adjust for Differences: If there are any differences in terms and conditions, such as volume discounts or payment terms, adjustments are made to ensure comparability.

Conclusion: By demonstrating that the price charged to SoftTech Canada is within the range of prices charged to unrelated third parties, SoftTech Inc. justifies that its transfer pricing is at arm’s length using the CUP method.

Example 2: Cost Plus Method

Scenario: Manufacturing Components

A manufacturing company, AutoParts Inc., supplies car components to its related entity, AutoParts Germany. The cost-plus method is used to determine the transfer price.


  1. Determine Production Costs: AutoParts Inc. calculates the total production cost for the components, which is $50 per unit.
  2. Add Profit Markup: The company identifies that a comparable independent manufacturer applies a 20% markup on similar transactions. Therefore, AutoParts Inc. adds a 20% markup to its production cost.
  3. Calculate Transfer Price: The transfer price is calculated as follows:
    Transfer Price=Production Cost+(Production Cost×Markup Percentage)Transfer Price=Production Cost+(Production Cost×Markup Percentage)
    Transfer Price=50+(50×0.20)=50+10=60Transfer Price=50+(50×0.20)=50+10=60

Conclusion: AutoParts Inc. sets the transfer price at $60 per unit for the components supplied to AutoParts Germany, ensuring compliance with the arm’s length principle using the cost-plus method.

Example 3: Transactional Net Margin Method

Scenario: Computer Manufacturing

A Malaysian subsidiary, X Co., distributes computers manufactured by its parent company, Y Co., located overseas. X Co. also provides technical support to its customers. The TNMM is applied to ensure that the transfer pricing between X Co. and Y Co. is at arm’s length.


  1. Identify the Net Profit Margin of the Tested Party:
    • Sales: $100,000
    • Cost of Goods Sold (COGS): $90,000
    • Gross Profit: $10,000
    • Operating Expenses: $15,000
    • Net Loss: $(5,000)
    • Net Profit Margin: $-5,000 / $100,000 = -5%
  2. Identify Comparable Uncontrolled Transactions:
    • A benchmarking study is conducted to find independent distributors in the same industry and region.
    • The study reveals that comparable independent distributors have a net profit margin of 5%.
  3. Adjust the Transfer Price:
    • Adjustments are made to align X Co.’s net profit margin with the arm’s length range.
    • The target net profit for X Co. should be 5% of sales:
      Target Net Profit=100,000×0.05=5,000Target Net Profit=100,000×0.05=5,000
    • Adjusted COGS is calculated to achieve the target net profit:
      Adjusted COGS=Sales−Operating Expenses−Target Net ProfitAdjusted COGS=Sales−Operating Expenses−Target Net Profit
      Adjusted COGS=100,000−15,000−5,000=80,000Adjusted COGS=100,000−15,000−5,000=80,000

Conclusion: By adjusting the COGS to $80,000, X Co. achieves a net profit margin of 5%, aligning with the arm’s length principle. This ensures that the transfer pricing between X Co. and Y Co. complies with tax regulations.

Closing Thoughts

A thorough economic analysis in transfer pricing is indispensable for justifying arm’s length pricing, ensuring compliance, optimizing profits, and mitigating risks. Engaging experts like TRM can enhance the robustness of transfer pricing policies and documentation, providing peace of mind and strategic advantages in the complex landscape of international taxation.

The Role of Expert Consultation

Consulting experts in transfer pricing can provide significant advantages:

  • Ensuring Compliance: Experts ensure that transfer pricing documentation adheres to local and international regulations, reducing the risk of penalties and audits.
  • Optimizing Transfer Pricing Policies: They provide strategic guidance to maximise transfer pricing policies, especially during business changes like restructuring or acquisitions.
  • Dispute Resolution: Experts can represent the company in case of disputes with tax authorities, leveraging their experience to achieve favourable outcomes.


  1. – Transactional Net Margin Method (TNMM)
  2. LinkedIn – Transactional Net Margin Method (TNMM)
  3. KPMG – Transfer Pricing Methods
  4. Wikipedia – Transactional Net Margin Method
  5. Taxguru – Overview of Transactional Net Margin Method (TNMM)
  6. RoyaltyRange – The CUP Method
  7. Valentiam – The Cost Plus Transfer Pricing Method (With Examples)
  8. KPMG – Transfer Pricing Methods
  9. TGS AU-Partners – Cost-Plus Method for Transfer Pricing
  10. Valentiam – The Comparable Uncontrolled Price (CUP) Method: How It Works
  11. Transfer Pricing Asia – The Cost Plus Method With Example
  12. IAM – Licensing Intangibles Under Transfer Pricing Guidelines

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