| 18-12-2017 | treasuryXL |
Many businesses (not just multinationals) finance the operations of their subsidiaries/affiliates via intercompany loans. During the financial crisis external funding became more difficult to obtain, and more businesses attempted to finance their operations internally. Whilst this can be a good procedure, consideration must be given to the fact that the loans must still be proper loans, compliant with normal market practices. Below we attempt to explain the relevant procedure.
Arm’s length principle
All terms and conditions of the intercompany loan – with special consideration for the interest rate – must be consistent with independent external loan funding. A business can not adopt a more generous approach to funding its subsidiaries than could be obtained externally. The pricing of the loan must reflect the perceived credit risk of the entity that is seeking funding.
Just as with external financing, legal documentation needs to be drawn up and signed that clearly shows the terms and conditions of the loan. Standard covenants should be included together with a schedule showing repayment of principal and interest. If a subsidiary is granted an embedded option (early repayment without a penalty) then this must be clearly noted. Whilst the documentation does not have to be as large as that used by banks, it should always contain all relevant clauses, and both parties must adhere to the signed loan agreement. Included within the documentation should be a detailed explanation as to how the price and spread was determined, along with external data proof.
As most subsidiaries are small and have no independent credit rating, an approach must be taken to attempt to define their creditworthiness. Standard metrics can be used to ascertain an internal rating. Just with a normal external loan, attention should be paid to the ability to repay. Whilst tax authorities may question the integrity of the credit modelling matrix, this can at least be negotiated if a dispute arises. If no matrix is available, then problems can occur.
As previously stated, an internal loan should replicate the general conditions of an external loan. That means that when trying to determine the interest rate, full attention should be given to the funding costs of the main company. They need to determine what price they would pay externally to fund the loan and then apply a premium to the subsidiary. Traditionally rates can be fixed or floating with a premium.
Internal loans should always be monitored. They should not be a quick substitute for proper due diligence. Problems can easily arise if tax authorities reached the conclusion that the loan is being extended to a loss-making entity that would not receive funding externally.