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Kruger: FX Derivatives Gains/Losses Taxed Only When Realized

In Kruger Incorporated v. The Queen (2015 TCC 119), the Tax Court held that the taxpayer could not value its foreign exchange options contracts on a mark-to-market basis, with the result that certain losses were not deductible by the taxpayer in a year. The Kruger case is another recent judgment of the Tax Court in the developing law on the Canadian tax treatment of financial derivative products (see George Weston Limited v. The Queen (2015 TCC 42)).

Facts

Kruger’s core business was manufacturing newsprint, paper-coated products and tissue paper. In the 1980s, Kruger started trading in foreign currency contracts, and over time these activities grew to involve more than 10 employees trading in currency, bonds and securities.

In 1997, Kruger was advised that it was required to start reporting its financial trading activities on a mark-to-market basis, which required the recognition of any change in market value in a year as an income gain or loss.

In 1998, certain of Kruger’s U.S. currency options contracts were “under water” due to fluctuations in the Canada-U.S. exchange rate. Accordingly, for its 1998 tax year, Kruger claimed losses totaling $91,104,379 from a business of trading in derivatives. The CRA reassessed to deny the deduction of $91,104,379, but excluded from income the amount of $18,696,881, which Kruger had included as the amortized portion of the net of premium income and expenses for the foreign exchange options contracts. The CRA also included the amount of $91,104,379 in Kruger’s taxable capital for the purposes of the large corporations tax (which has now been generally repealed).

Kruger appealed the reassessment on the basis that, in accordance with section 9 of the Act, it was entitled to value its foreign exchange options contracts using the mark-to-market method, and argued in the alternative that its foreign exchange options contracts were inventory and were to be valued at the lower of cost and fair market value under subsection 10(1) of the Act.

Analysis

The Court reviewed the key Canadian judicial authorities regarding the test for determining income under the Act, including Friedberg v. The Queen ([1993] 4 S.C.R. 285), Canderel Limited v. The Queen ([1998] 1 S.C.R. 147), Friesen v. The Queen ([1995] 3 S.C.R. 103). The Court referred to the oft-cited principles from Canderel that the determination of profit is a question of law, and a taxpayer is free to adopt any method for determining profit that is not inconsistent with the provisions of the Act, case law, and well-accepted business principles. Once the taxpayer has shown that it has provided an accurate picture of income, the onus shifts to the CRA to establish that the amount is not an accurate picture of profit or that another method would provide a more accurate picture.

The Court noted there were no provisions in the Act that required or authorized the valuation of property on a mark-to-market basis. Further, there is an important difference between financial and tax accounting:

[109] Financial accounting … is concerned with constructing a picture of profit from year to year in a consistent manner for the benefit of the audience for whom financial statements are prepared: shareholders, investors, lenders, etc. … FASB views mark to market valuation for the same reasons: to better enable investors, creditors and others to assess the entity’s performance. …

[110] Tax accounting normally is not overly concerned with the past; it wants a picture of income for a particular year and … the methodology used to calculate income in one year may be different from that used in an earlier year. … statements for tax purposes are solely concerned with the computation of income in achieving an accurate picture of income for the particular taxation year.

The Court noted that sections 142.2 to 142.5 of the Act require financial institutions and investment dealers to use mark-to-market, but these rules did not apply to Kruger. The Court stated,

[114] Mark to market accounting … would compel a taxpayer to include any loss or gain in value of the property at year-end in income for the year. This may be appropriate for financial statements for reasons discussed earlier. But, for income tax purposes, the taxpayer may be compelled to include an amount in income where there is no clear statutory language requiring him or her to do so. The realization principle is basic to Canadian tax law. It provides certainty of a gain or loss. Without some support of the statutory language or a compelling interpretation tool it ought not to be cast aside.

The Court also noted a difficulty in respect of the market prices for the foreign exchange options contracts, namely that such prices were formulated by the counter-parties to the contracts (i.e., Kruger’s banks). The Court held there was a “probably inconsistency in values” depending on the pricing method used by the counter-party.

In respect of Kruger’s alternative argument that the options contracts were inventory, the Court determined that Kruger was carrying on a business of speculating on foreign exchange currency options that was separate from its manufacturing business. Further, the Court determined that the foreign exchange options contracts were financial liabilities when such contracts were written by Kruger, and property (i.e., inventory) when purchased by Kruger.

The Court allowed the appeal only to permit Kruger to value its purchased foreign exchange options contracts in accordance with subsection 10(1) of the Act (which would have an effect similar to mark-to-market accounting in that the contracts would be valued each year at the lower of cost and fair market value). Additionally, the amount of $91,104,379 was to be added to Kruger’s taxable capital for the purposes of the large corporations tax

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Kruger: FX Derivatives Gains/Losses Taxed Only When Realized

Daishowa-Marubeni: A Tree Fell in the Forest and the SCC Caught it!

In Daishowa-Marubeni International Ltd. v. The Queen, 2013 SCC 29, Justice Rothstein marries tax philosophy and tax practice by asking and answering the question:

If a tree falls in the forest and you are not around to replant it, how does it affect your taxes?

The Court analyzes the difference for tax purposes between liabilities and embedded obligations, considers the law of contingent liabilities, the role of tax symmetry in the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “Act”), the role of the agreement between the parties and the role of accounting treatment in reaching the conclusion that embedded obligations are not liabilities that form part of proceeds of disposition.

For a full analysis of the decision, click here.

Daishowa-Marubeni: A Tree Fell in the Forest and the SCC Caught it!

FCA affirms the importance of GAAP in computing liability for LCT rejecting the Crown’s economic substance argument

The Federal Court of Appeal has once again affirmed the importance of Generally Accepted Account Principles (GAAP) in computing liability for the large corporation tax (LCT) applicable prior to 2006 while rejecting the Crown’s economic substance argument: The Queen v. Bombardier Inc.

The case turned on how Bombardier accounted for advances received in connection with long-term construction contracts:

[9] It can be seen from this agreement that the respondent has two divisions: the Aerospace Division (aircraft sale contracts) and the Transportation Division (public transportation equipment) and aircraft parts and components. It can also be seen that, in the Aerospace Division, as shown at paragraph 6 of the agreement, “[t]he income from contracts for aircraft sales is recognized as work progresses, on the basis of the delivery date, whereas in the Transportation Division, as shown in paragraph 10, “[i]ncome from long‑term contracts is recognized as work progresses, on the basis of costs incurred”.

[10] In summary, in the Aerospace Division, financing for long‑term work is obtained through advances of funds paid on dates predetermined in the contract of sale. The amounts of these advances do not depend on the work in progress or the work completed. They correspond to a portion of the selling price.

[11] Conversely, in the Transport Division, financing for work of the same nature is acquired through payments in amounts determined by progressive billing proportionate to the work completed.

In the case of aircraft sale contracts Bombardier used the “percentage-of-completion” method. The Crown did not dispute that this method was authorized by GAAP:

[27] The fact that the respondent’s balance sheet was GAAP‑compliant in all respects is recognized and acknowledged by the appellant and its expert. Indeed, the appellant’s expert, Mr. Thornton, confirmed this on cross‑examination. He also admitted that the respondent had correctly exercised its judgment regarding the advances, seemed to have applied standard SOP 81‑1 and had used paragraph 6.19 as a basis for its judgment; and that standard SOP 81‑1 was an acceptable source: see Mr. Thornton’s cross‑examination, Appeal Book, Vol. 10, at pages 109 to 114. He also acknowledged that the advances had been allocated to the project for which they had been paid, not used to finance other projects: ibidem, at page 117.

The Crown’s position was that in this case GAAP did not reflect economic reality:

[32] The appellant’s position, with which the Court of Québec agreed [a decision which is currently being appealed to the Québec Court of Appeal], gives precedence to the legal reality over the commercial and accounting reality by not allowing the amount of the advances to be reduced by the cost of the work for the purposes of calculating the taxable capital under paragraph 181(3)(b). According to the respondent’s expert, by designating the full amount of the advances as liabilities, the appellant is refusing to recognize that, on a commercial and economic level, the respondent used its inventory to perform the contract and sold that inventory, although from a legal standpoint ownership had not yet been transferred: see Mr. Chlala’s cross‑examination, Appeal Book, Vol. 9, at pages 40 to 43. In other words, the appellant’s position does not reflect the [translation] “economics of the situation” prevailing between the parties, which [translation] “suggest that a continuous sale occurs as the work progresses, and revenue should be recognized accordingly”: see the excerpt from the work by Messrs. Chlala, Ménard et al., quoted above in connection with the percentage‑of‑completion method.

The Court of Appeal rejected the Crown’s argument citing its earlier decision in Attorney General of Canada v. Ford Credit Canada Ltd.

In that decision Ryer JA wrote:

[27] In my view, this decision is far from helpful to the Minister in this appeal. In essence, Rothstein J.A. determined that the balance sheet of the taxpayer must be accepted for LCT purposes if it was accepted by the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. In my view, the same logic should apply where the corporation in question is subject to subparagraph 181(3)(b)(i) rather than subparagraph 181(3)(b)(ii). On that basis, provided that the balance sheet in question has been prepared in accordance with GAAP and otherwise complies with the specific provisions of Part I.3, that balance sheet must be accepted for the purposes of the determination of the LCT liability of the corporation.

While LCT decisions are of limited application to most taxpayers, this decision and the Ford Credit Canada Ltd. decision (where David Spiro was the successful lead counsel) form a useful bulwark against attacks mounted by the CRA based on “economic substance”.

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FCA affirms the importance of GAAP in computing liability for LCT rejecting the Crown’s economic substance argument