What is a Transfer Price?

Transfer Price

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Transfer Price

Transfer pricing refers to the price at which divisions of a company transact with each other. These transactions can involve the exchange of goods, services, or intellectual property. Transfer prices are used when individual subsidiaries or segments of a large company or conglomerate sell products or services to each other.

The concept is particularly significant for multinational companies that operate in more than one country. Here’s why transfer pricing is essential:

  • Profit Allocation: Transfer prices will determine how much profit each division or subsidiary of a company reports. For instance, if a U.S.-based division of a company sells goods to its French division at a high price, then the U.S. division will report higher profits, while the French division will have lower profits due to the higher cost of goods.
  • Tax Implications: Different countries have different corporate tax rates. Companies might be tempted to use transfer pricing strategically to shift profits to jurisdictions with lower tax rates, thereby reducing their overall tax liability. As a result, many countries have established regulations to ensure that transfer pricing between divisions or subsidiaries is set at “arm’s length,” meaning the prices charged are consistent with what two independent, unrelated parties would charge each other.
  • Regulatory Concerns: Due to the potential for profit shifting and tax avoidance, transfer pricing is heavily scrutinized by tax authorities worldwide. Organizations like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) provide guidelines on how transfer prices should be established to avoid such issues.
  • Internal Considerations: Beyond tax considerations, transfer pricing can impact how a company evaluates the performance of its different divisions. If transfer prices are too high or too low, it can distort the perceived profitability of a division, leading to incorrect strategic decisions.

In summary, while transfer pricing is a standard practice in large, diversified companies, especially multinationals, it’s a complex area that intersects both with corporate strategy and international tax law. Properly managing transfer pricing is crucial not just for tax compliance but also for accurate internal performance evaluation.

Example of a Transfer Price

Let’s use a hypothetical example to illustrate the concept of transfer pricing:

Company: TechGiant Inc., a multinational corporation that produces smartphones.


  • TechGiant US – Located in the United States, this division manufactures the core processors for the smartphones.
  • TechGiant Ireland – Located in Ireland, this division assembles the final smartphones.


  • Production and Transfer:TechGiant US manufactures the core processor for $50 each. They transfer these processors to TechGiant Ireland for assembly into the final smartphone. TechGiant US decides to charge TechGiant Ireland $120 per processor. This means TechGiant US is recording a profit of $70 per processor ($120 – $50).
  • Sale to Consumers:After TechGiant Ireland completes the assembly using the core processor and other components, the final smartphone is sold to consumers worldwide for $500 each.


  • Profit Allocation:If TechGiant US charges TechGiant Ireland $120 for the core processor, it books a higher profit. If it charged only $60, its profits would be lower.
  • Tax Implications:The United States might have a higher corporate tax rate than Ireland. By booking a higher profit in the US (by setting a high transfer price), TechGiant Inc. might end up paying more in taxes. Conversely, if the goal was to shift profits to Ireland (perhaps due to a tax incentive or a lower tax rate there), TechGiant US might charge a lower transfer price, reducing its profit and increasing the profit for TechGiant Ireland.
  • Regulatory Scrutiny:Tax authorities will be interested in these transactions. If the transfer price is deemed not to be at “arm’s length,” TechGiant Inc. might face penalties. The “arm’s length” principle suggests the price should be what two independent entities would charge each other for a similar product or service in the open market.
  • Internal Evaluation:TechGiant’s management might evaluate the performance of each division based on their profitability. If transfer prices are not set appropriately, it might lead to a skewed perception of how each division is performing, which could affect decisions related to resource allocation, bonuses, and more.

This example simplifies a very complex real-world scenario, but it showcases the essential dynamics of transfer pricing, including its implications for profit allocation, tax strategy, regulatory compliance, and internal decision-making.

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