Coordinated Issue Motor Vehicle Industry Excess Parts Inventory (Revised: September 30, 1998)
Revision Date: September 30, 1998
Whether "excess parts" that were previously transferred at a loss as part of a purported sale by the taxpayer to an unrelated warehouse facility are includible in the taxpayer’s inventory where the taxpayer has retained dominion and control over the parts.
Motor Vehicle Industry manufacturers and distributors maintain extensive inventories of replacement parts and components to service customers’ future needs. These companies generally have policies stating how long replacement parts will be retained and frequently they retain them for longer periods.
When parts or components are manufactured or purchased from vendors, it is more economical to order a large quantity sufficient to meet current demand and anticipated replacements than to order a smaller quantity for current demand and then order again for replacement demand. Consequently, the items ordered for future replacement demand may be held for many years before being sold, and may eventually be scrapped. Because of a long retention period and the possibility that the parts might eventually be scrapped, they are commonly referred to as "excess parts."
Prior to the Supreme Court’s Thor Power decision (Thor Power Tool Co. v. Commissioner, 439 U.S. 522 (1979)), excess parts were routinely written down by manufacturers to their net realizable value based upon management’s business experience and forecasts of future demand. This method met the requirements of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and resulted in the value of the parts in inventory to be a fraction of their historical cost or having no value at all. The Supreme Court held that taxpayers with excessive parts inventories could not value them based on future demand even though the method was permissible under GAAP. The Court ruled that the parts should be valued at historical cost where "market" could not be ascertained and they were not scrapped.
Faced with the alternatives of either inventorying the replacement parts at cost or scrapping them, taxpayers made arrangements to "sell" their excess parts to warehousing companies at scrap prices with the understanding that the parts would remain under the taxpayers’ control. Taxpayers account for these "sales" by including the scrap sales price in income and deducting, through cost of goods sold, the historical cost of the parts. The net result is a loss similar in amount to the deductions previously claimed by writing down the inventory value of the excess parts.
As part of the arrangements with the warehousing companies, taxpayers do not surrender all burdens and benefits of ownership but continue to exercise control so as to remain the exclusive source of the parts for their customers. These arrangements provide for buy-back or similar provisions, either stated or implied. Thus, taxpayers are able to continue to fill customers’ orders for the parts even after the parts are "sold" to the warehousing company. Taxpayers intend to circumvent the Court’s Thor Power rule through these arrangements.
Taxpayers in the Motor Vehicle Industry have transferred excess parts to warehousing companies for many years since the Thor Power decision, and deducted losses on the "sales" during years for which the statute of limitations has expired. The parts, however, continue to be maintained by the warehousing companies but are not included in the taxpayers’ inventories.
In Paccar Inc. and Subsidiaries v. Commissioner, 849 F. 2d 393 (9th Cir. 1988), and Clark Equipment Company and Consolidated Subsidiaries v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1988-111, the courts have held that no deduction is allowable for losses based on sales of excess parts where the taxpayer retains dominion and control over the use and disposition of the parts. The manufacturer’s control over an inventory of parts "sold" to a warehouse is equivalent to ownership. It was agreed that the warehouse would not sell the parts to anyone other than the manufacturer, who also had an exclusive right to repurchase those parts. The court stated in Paccar:
In our view, the following four factors should be considered in determining the character of the transactions between petitioner and SAJAC: (1) who determined what items were taken into inventory; (2) who determined when to scrap existing inventory; (3) who determined when to sell inventory; and (4) who decided whether to alter inventory.
In the instant case, we conclude that the transaction between petitioner and SAJAC did not constitute a sale because petitioner retained dominion and control over the assets transferred to SAJAC for at least 4 years after the initial transfer. During this period, SAJAC was required to retain the inventory transferred. As a matter of practice, the inventory was retained for a longer time. Not only was SAJAC unable to dispose of the assets for at least 4 years, but, even after that period expired, when SAJAC requested permission from petitioner to sell the inventory it was not permitted to sell it in usable form. Petitioner also retained the right to require SAJAC to destroy, scrap, dismantle, or mutilate the material not resold to petitioner. In effect, petitioner retains the same control over the inventory that it had before shipping it to SAJAC. The only right SAJAC had with respect to the inventory was to receive an agreed amount for any item petitioner had shipped to a dealer for use as a part. In effect, this payment was no more than a flexible storage fee. ... the record reflects that petitioner sent inventory to SAJAC as a matter of course in order to retain the parts for future shipment to dealers, but at the same time to attempt to achieve tax benefits as if the inventory had been sold.
In our view, the transfer of excess and obsolete inventory from petitioner to SAJAC did not constitute a sale but was a device to circumvent our holding in Thor Power Tool Co v. Commissioner, supra, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court.
Rev. Rul. 83-59 holds that a manufacturer may not reduce its ending inventory based on purported sales of "excess" inventory at scrap value, when under the sales arrangement the manufacturer continues to possess, as a matter of fact, the benefits and burdens of ownership with respect to the "excess" inventory. This type of transaction is not a bona fide sale for federal income tax purposes.
Section 1.471-1 of the Regulations provides that inventory should include all goods where title vests with the taxpayer.
Change in Method of Accounting
A change requiring a taxpayer to include in its inventory previously excluded transferred excess parts is a change in method of accounting subject to the provisions of Code sections 446 and 481.
A taxpayer under examination may only request a change to its method of accounting to include in its inventory previously excluded transferred excess parts under the more taxpayer-beneficial provisions of Rev. Proc. 97-27 during the 90-day or 120-day window period provided in section 6.01 of Rev. Proc. 97-27, and only if the taxpayer is eligible to request the method change during the window period.
An agent will render the taxpayer ineligible to request to change its method of accounting under Rev. Proc. 97-27 during the 90-day and 120-day window periods if prior to the beginning of the window periods the agent has placed that method of accounting in suspense or "under consideration." Written notification to the taxpayer specifically citing the treatment of the accounting item as an issue under consideration places the method of accounting under consideration. See section 3.08 of Rev. Proc. 97-27 for examples.
If the taxpayer under examination is not eligible to request a change to its method of accounting to include in its inventory previously excluded transferred excess parts under Rev. Proc. 97-27, the examining agent may require the taxpayer to make the change as part of his/her examination. A change in method of accounting made by the district director resulting in a positive section 481(a) adjustment will ordinarily be made in the earliest taxable year under examination with the entire amount of the section 481(a) adjustment included in the examining agent’s taxable income for the year of the method change.
When an examining agent changes a taxpayer’s method of accounting as part of an examination, it is important that the examining agent provide written notice to the taxpayer stating the proper method of accounting and that the district director is changing the taxpayer’s method of accounting. The written notice should also clearly label the section 481(a) adjustment. The written notice ordinarily should be provided in the examiner’s report, Form 870AD or, where applicable, in a closing agreement finalizing the accounting method change.
If a taxpayer transfers excess parts to warehousing companies during a year under examination and deducts a loss on the transfer, the loss can be disallowed using the principles established by Rev. Rul. 83-59, which have been affirmed by the courts in Paccar and Clark.
Taxpayers may have transferred excess parts to warehousing companies in prior years and deducted losses on the "sales", which may not have been disallowed for the years claimed because the year of the loss was not examined or the issue was not raised. The statute of limitations for assessing additional tax for these years may have expired.
Under the principles established by Rev. Rul. 83-59 and the courts in Paccar and Clark, the excess parts should be included in inventory if they are being held by the warehousing company even if they were transferred in prior years. For any current year under examination, the issue should be raised to include the excess parts in inventory similar to other situations where taxpayers have not included items in inventory.
When a taxpayer has used an improper method of accounting for tax purposes, a change to a correct method may be made during a current year under examination. Thus, if taxpayers have excluded items from inventory for a number of years, a change can be made to include in the current inventory all items improperly excluded. The rules of Section 481 should be applied.
Any excess parts that have been transferred to a warehousing company are includible in inventory where the taxpayer retains dominion and control over the parts. If the parts have been excluded for a number of years, a section 481 adjustment should be made.
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