The legal framework for business consolidations in India consists of numerous statutory tax concessions and tax-neutrality for certain kinds of reorganizations and consolidations.
The legal framework for business consolidations in India consists of numerous statutory tax concessions and tax neutrality for certain kinds of reorganizations and consolidations. This report describes the main provisions for corporate entities. Tax rates cited are for the financial year (FY) ending 31 March 2017, and include a surcharge (12 percent for domestic companies and 5 percent for foreign companies having income over 100 million Indian rupees (INR) (about 1,562,500 US dollars (US$)) and an education cess (tax) of 3 percent.
Finance Bill 2018
Direct tax and Indirect tax changes were introduced in the budget (’Finance Bill’) presented on 1 February 2018. The Finance Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament after some amendments were made. As the next step in the legislative process, the President will need to provide assent before the bill is enacted as a law.
The key tax changes proposed in the Finance Bill affecting mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in India are as follows:
General anti-avoidance rule clarification
The general anti-avoidance rule (GAAR) empowers the tax authorities to declare an ‘arrangement’ entered into by a taxpayer to be an ‘impermissible avoidance agreement’ (IAA), resulting in denial of the tax benefit under domestic tax laws or a tax treaty. The GAAR provisions took effect as of 1 April 2017 (FY 2018). The India Tax Administration has further issued guidance clarifying the applicability of GAAR provisions under specified scenarios. One of the key clarifications relates to interplay between the limitation on benefit (LOB) article in tax treaties and the GAAR provisions. The guidance clarifies that if the case is sufficiently addressed by the LOB article in the respective tax treaty, GAAR should not be invoked.
Taxability on Indirect share transfers
Where a foreign company transfers shares of a foreign company to another company and the value of the shares is derived substantially from assets situated in India, then capital gains derived on the transfer are subject to income tax in India. Further, payment for such shares is subject to Indian withholding tax (WHT). Shares of a foreign company are deemed to derive their value substantially from assets in India if the value of such Indian assets is at least INR100 million and represents at least 50 percent of the value of all the assets owned by such foreign company.
The India Tax Administration has now notified rules for computing the FMV and consequent gains attributed to assets located in India. The value of assets, both tangible and intangible, is deemed to be their FMV on the ‘specified date’ without reduction of liabilities (if any) for the asset.
The rules also require the Indian entity and the transferor entities to report the information in prescribed forms.
Limited liability partnerships
The Limited Liability Partnerships Act was passed in 2009, paving the way for setting up limited liability partnerships (LLP) in India. Under this law, a limited liability partnership (LLP) is a corporate entity that exists as a legal person separate from its partners and that is able to enter into binding contracts. LLPs are taxed as normal partnerships; that is, the profits earned by an LLP are taxed in its hands and shares of profit are exempt in the hands of the partners. Previously, foreign direct investment (FDI) in LLPs was permitted only with government approval and LLPs were not allowed to make downstream investments.The India Exchange Control Regulations have been liberalized to allow foreign companies to be appointed as designated partners (DP) of LLP. Individuals appointed as DP do not need to satisfy the residency test under the Indian Exchange Control Regulations.
Further, conversion of a company into an LLP has been now permitted under an automatic route, subject to the condition that 100 percent FDI is permitted under the automatic route to the company under consideration. Conversion of a company into LLP is exempt from domestic capital gains tax if prescribed conditions are met.
Place of effective management
For foreign companies, the test of residence under the domestic tax laws of India is whether the company is incorporated in India or has its ‘place of effective management’ in India (POEM). POEM has been defined as “a place where key management and commercial decisions that are necessary for the conduct of the business of an entity as a whole are, in substance made”. The India Tax Administration has further issued guiding principles to be followed for determination of POEM. The guidelines primarily consider whether the company is engaged in ‘active business outside India’. The guidelines state that the concept of POEM is one of substance over form.
Valuation of equity shares
Recipient-based taxation of specified property
Under previous tax laws, recipient-based taxation in the hands of a company was restricted to unlisted equity shares and the deemed FMV was based on book value computation. The application of recipient-based taxation in cases of no or inadequate consideration for the receipt of specified property has been widened to include both unlisted and listed securities. Further, taxability on receipt of specified property (e.g. shares, securities, jewelry, immoveable property) for no or inadequate consideration was extended to all taxpayers (including company and firms) as of 1 April 2017.
Further, the rules for valuation of equity shares were amended to compute FMV for tax purposes.The rules require the valuation of equity shares to take into account the FMV of underlying assets, such as the FMV of jewelry, artistic work, shares and securities, guidance value/stamp duty value in case of immovable property, and book value for the other assets.
Deemed FMV on transfer of unlisted shares in the hands of the Transferor
The Indian tax laws were amended as of 1 April 2017 to include deemed FMV in the hands of seller on transfer of unlisted shares at less than FMV. The FMV of shares for tax purposes is computed in the same way as it is for recipient- based tax.
India introduced thin capitalization provisions with effect from 1 April 2017. Under these rules, the total interest deduction for Indian companies and permanent establishments (PE) of foreign companies is capped at 30 per cent of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).The rules also apply to debt issued or guaranteed (including implicit guarantee) by a non-resident associated enterprise.The interest disallowed is eligible to be carried forward for 8 years and is deductible in later years, subject to a cap of 30 percent.
Conversion of preference shares into equity shares
Under previous provisions, conversion of a bond or debenture into equity shares was specifically exempt from the capital gains tax. Effective 1 April 2017, capital gains tax exemption has been extended on the conversion of preference shares into equity shares. Further, when equity shares are later sold, the acquisition cost and holding period of the preference shares will be grandfathered.
Dividend income taxable in the hands of resident non- corporates (individuals, firms/LLPs)
Under previous provisions, dividend income was exempt for shareholders provided the company declaring the dividends paid the dividend distribution tax on their distribution. Effective 1 April 2017, India tax laws have introduced an additional tax of 10 percent (excluding surcharge and cess) for resident non-corporates (i.e. individuals, firms, LLPs) on their dividend income exceeding INR1 million.The additional tax does not apply to non- resident shareholders (including foreign companies).
Real estate investment trust update
In 2014, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) introduced a new vehicle for investment in the real estate sector, the real estate investment trust (REIT), which invests in completed, rent-yielding real estate properties.
The India Exchange Control Regulations have been amended to permit foreign investment in REITs, including raising debt under external commercial borrowing (ECB) guidelines, subject to certain conditions. Banks are also allowed to participate in REIT in certain conditions.
Goods and services tax
In July 2017, a goods and services tax (GST) was introduced in India. The GST is an umbrella tax that subsumed a number of indirect taxes, such as excise duty, service tax, value added tax (VAT), central sales tax, and entry tax.
Under GST, the type of taxes levied are integrated GST, central GST, state/union GST and GST compensation cess. GST applies primarily at four tax rates (i.e. 5, 12, 18 and 28 percent) depending on the category of goods or service.
Impact of Companies Act, 2013
Companies Act, 1956 has been replaced with Companies Act, 2013 in a phased manner. In December 2016, the India Corporate Law Regulator notified sections under the new Companies Act, 2013 relating to mergers, demergers, arrangements and liquidation. Under these provisions, all mergers and demergers must now approved by the Jurisdictional National Company Law Tribunal Courts (instead of the High Courts under the previous rules). Further, the provisions in relation to inbound merger (merger of a foreign company into an Indian company) and outbound merger (merger of an India company into a foreign company) have also become effective. However, the India Exchange Control Regulations for outbound mergers are yet to be notified.
Securities and Exchange Board of India
The SEBI governs securities that are publicly traded in India. The SEBI has set out additional information rules requiring public shareholders’ approval in schemes of arrangements involving listed entities. Approval by SEBI and stock exchanges approval is not required for schemes involving the merger of a wholly owned subsidiary or its division with the parent company. Further, electronic voting is now mandatory for schemes involving listed companies.
The acquisition of the business of an Indian company can be accomplished by the purchase of shares or the purchase of all or some of the assets. From a tax perspective, long-term capital gains arising on a sale of equity shares through the recognized stock exchanges in India are exempt from tax, provided STT is paid. All other gains on sales of assets are taxable. In some cases (in addition to capital gains taxes), other transfer taxes, such as stamp duty, may also be levied. A detailed comparison of the various types of purchases is provided at the end of this report.
Purchase of assets
A purchase of assets can be achieved through either a purchase of a business on a going-concern basis or a purchase of individual assets. A business could be acquired on either a ‘slump-sale’ or ‘itemized sale’ basis.The sale of a business undertaking is on a slump-sale basis when the entire business is transferred as a going concern for a lump-sum consideration — cherry-picking of assets is not possible. An itemized sale occurs either where a business is purchased as a going concern and the consideration is specified for each asset or where only specific assets or liabilities are transferred — cherry-picking of assets by the buyer is an option.The implications of each type of transaction are described later in this report.
The actual cost of the asset is regarded as its cost for tax purposes. This general rule may be subject to some modifications depending on the nature of asset and the transaction. Allocation of the purchase price by the buyer on an acquisition through a slump sale is critical from a tax perspective because the entire business undertaking is transferred as a going concern for a lump-sum consideration. The tax authorities normally accept allocation of the purchase price on a fair value or other reasonable commercial basis. Reports from independent valuations providers are also acceptable.
For itemized sale transactions, the cost paid by the acquirer as agreed upfront may be accepted as the acquisition cost, subject to certain conditions. Therefore, under both slump sales and itemized sales, a step-up in the cost base of the assets may be obtained.
Goodwill arises when the consideration paid is higher than the total fair value/cost of the assets acquired. This arises only in situations of a slump-sale. The tax law only permits depreciation/amortization of intangible assets, such as know- how, patents, copyrights, trademarks, licenses and franchises or any similar business or commercial rights. Therefore, when the excess of consideration over the value of the assets arises because of these intangible assets, a depreciation allowance may be available. Recent judicial precedents have allowed depreciation on goodwill arising out of amalgamation by treating it as a depreciable asset.
Depreciation charged in the accounts is ignored for tax purposes. The tax laws provide for specific depreciation rates for the tangible assets (buildings, machinery, plant or furniture), depending on the nature of asset used in the business. Additional depreciation of 20 percent is available for new plant and machinery used in manufacturing or production provided prescribed conditions are met. An additional 15 percent deduction was recently announced for manufacturing companies, subject to prescribed conditions.
Depreciation on eligible intangible assets (described above) is allowed at a flat rate of 25 percent. Certain assets, such as computer software, enjoy higher tax depreciation at 60 percent.
Depreciation is allowed on a ‘block of assets’ basis. All assets of a similar nature are classified under a single block — and any additions/deletions are made directly in the block. The depreciation rates apply on a reducing-balance basis on the entire block. However, companies engaged in the generation and/or distribution of power have the option to claim depreciation on a straight-line basis. In the first year, if the assets are used in the business for less than 180 days, only half of the entire eligible depreciation for that year is deductible. When the assets are used for more than 180 days in the first year, the entire eligible depreciation for that year is allowed. Capital allowances are available for certain types of asset, such as assets used in scientific research or other specified businesses, subject to certain conditions.
Tax losses are normally not transferred irrespective of the method of asset acquisition. The seller retains them.
However, certain tax benefits/deductions that are available to an undertaking may be available to the acquirer when the undertaking as a whole is transferred as a going concern as a result of a slump-sale.
Where proceedings are pending against the transferor, the tax authorities have the power to claim any tax on account of completion of the proceeding from the transferee where the transfer is made for inadequate consideration.
Typically, no GST implications arise on sale of a business as a whole on a going-concern basis wherein all the assets and liabilities (including movable and immovable property, including stock-in-trade and other goods) are transferred for a lump-sum consideration (i.e. a separate price is not assigned to each asset or liability). Unlike a slump-sale, in an itemized sale, individual assets are transferred at a specified price for each asset transferred.
Accordingly, GST would apply to each asset based on the applicable tax rates (i.e., 5, 12,18 or 28 percent). Depending on the nature of the item sold, the transferee may be able to recover GST paid by the transferor through input credit.
The transfer of assets by way of a slump-sale attracts stamp duty. Stamp duty implications differ from state to state. Rates generally range from 5 to 10 percent for immovable property and from 3 to 5 percent for movable property, usually based on the amount of consideration received for the transfer or the market value of the property transferred (whichever is higher). Depending on the nature of the assets transferred, appropriate structuring of the transfer mechanism may reduce the overall stamp duty cost.
Purchase of shares
Businesses can be acquired through a purchase of shares. No step-up in the cost of the underlying business is possible in a share purchase, in the absence of a specific provision in the tax law. No deduction is allowed for a difference between the underlying net asset values and the consideration paid (see ‘Concerns of the seller’).
Tax indemnities and warranties
In a share acquisition, the purchaser takes over the target company together with all its related liabilities, including contingent liabilities. Hence, the purchaser normally requires more extensive indemnities and warranties than in the case of an asset acquisition.
An alternative approach is for the seller’s business to be transferred into a newly formed entity, so the purchaser can take on a ‘clean’ business and leave its liabilities behind. Such a transfer may have tax implications. When significant sums are involved, it is customary for the purchaser to initiate a due diligence exercise. Normally, this would incorporate a review of the target’s tax affairs.
Tax losses consist of normal business losses and unabsorbed depreciation (where there is insufficient income to absorb the current-year depreciation). Both types of losses are eligible for carry forward and available for the purchaser. Business tax losses can be carried forward for a period of 8 years and offset against future profits. Unabsorbed depreciation can be carried forward indefinitely.
However, one essential condition for setting off business losses is the shareholding continuity test. Under this test, the beneficial ownership of shares carrying at least 51 percent of the voting power must be the same at the end of both the year during which the loss was incurred and the year during which the loss is proposed to be offset.
In order to promote business start-ups in India, the Finance Act 2017 amended these rules to allow eligible start-up companies to carry forward their first 7 years of losses as long as all the shareholders carrying voting power on the last day of year of loss continue to hold those shares on the last day of the year of change in shareholding. This test only applies to business losses (not unabsorbed depreciation) and to unlisted companies (commonly called ‘closely held companies’).
STT may be payable if the sale of shares is through a recognized stock exchange in India. STT is imposed on purchases and sales of equity shares listed on a recognized stock exchange in India at 0.1 percent based on the purchase or sale price. STT is payable both by the buyer and the seller on the turnover (which is a product of number of shares bought/sold and price per share).
Transfers of shares (other than those in de-materialized form, which are normally traded outside the stock exchanges) are subject to stamp duty at the rate of 0.25 percent of the market value of the shares transferred.
In the case of a pending proceeding against the transferor, the tax authorities have the power to claim any tax on account of completion of the proceeding from the transferee where the transfer is made for inadequate consideration. Income tax law provides mechanism for obtaining a tax clearance certificate for transfer of assets/business subject to certain conditions.
Several possible acquisition vehicles are available in India to a foreign purchaser. Tax and regulatory factors often influence the choice of vehicle.
Local holding company
Acquisitions through an Indian holding company are governed by the downstream investment guidelines issued in 2009 under FDI policy. Broadly, any indirect foreign investments (through Indian companies) are not construed as foreign investments where the intermediate Indian holding company is owned and/or controlled by resident Indians. The criteria for determining the ownership and control of an Indian company are ownership of more than 50 percent of the shares along with control of the governing board. Downstream investments made by Indian entities are not considered in determining whether these criteria are met.
Dividends in India are subject to a dividend distribution tax (DDT) of 15 percent excluding surcharge and cess (effective rate of 20.358 percent after applying grossing-up provisions). A parent company may be able to obtain credit for the DDT paid by its subsidiaries against its DDT liability on dividends declared.
Foreign parent company
Foreign investors may invest directly through a foreign parent company, subject to the prescribed foreign investment guidelines.
Non-resident intermediate holding company
An intermediate holding company resident in another territory could be used for investment into India, to minimize the tax leakage in India through, for example, source withholdings and capital gains taxes on exit. This may allow the purchaser to take advantage of a more favorable tax treaty with India. However, evidence of substance in the intermediate holding company's jurisdiction is required. LOB conditions are applicable where the tax treaty has an LOB clause (e.g. Mauritius, Singapore).
WHT on sale by non-resident
WHT applies at the applicable rates to any payment made to a non-resident seller for the purchase of any capital asset on account of any capital gains that accrue to the seller.
Applicable tax treaty provisions also need to be evaluated in order to determine the withholding tax rates.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) regulates the establishment of branches in India. The prescribed guidelines do not permit a foreign company to use the branch as a vehicle for acquiring Indian assets.
Joint ventures are normally used where specific sectoral caps are applicable under the foreign investment guidelines. In such scenarios, a joint venture with an Indian partner is set up that will later acquire the Indian target. In planning a joint venture, the current guidelines for calculating indirect foreign investments should be considered.
A purchaser using an Indian acquisition vehicle to carry out an acquisition for cash needs to decide whether to fund the vehicle with debt, equity or a hybrid instrument that combines the characteristics of both. The principles underlying these approaches are discussed below.
Tax-deductibility of interest makes debt funding an attractive method of funding. Debt borrowed in foreign currency is governed by the RBI’s external commercial borrowing (ECB) guidelines, which impose restrictions on ECB in terms of the amount, term, cost, end use and remittance into India. The guidelines prohibit an eligible borrower of ECBs to use the proceeds for certain purposes, including to fund any acquisition of shares. Borrowing funds from an Indian financial institution is worth considering as interest on such loans can be deducted from the operating profits of the business to arrive at the taxable profit. This option is likely to have the following advantages:
— no regulatory approvals required
— flexibility in repayment of funds
— no ceiling on rate of interest
— no hedging arrangements required
— no WHT on interest.
However, bank loans may have end-use restrictions.
The ECB Regulations notified by the India Exchange Regulator outline various conditions for foreign currency debt classified as ECB. This specifically includes definitions of (among others) ‘eligible borrower’, ‘recognized lender’, forms of ECB, end-use restrictions and all-in-cost ceilings.
Further, the SEBI Regulations permit issue of listed non- convertible debentures (NCD) as another instrument for public debt fund raising subject to provisions specified under Listing Regulations. As these instruments are not within the ECB framework, there are fewer restrictions (e.g. no sectoral caps, investment limits or end-use restrictions as in case of ECB). Unlisted NCDs continue to be governed by the ECB Regulations.
Deductibility of interest
Normally, the interest accounted for in the company’s books of accounts is allowed for tax purposes. Interest on loans from financial institutions and banks is normally only allowed when actually paid. Other interest (to residents and non-residents) is normally deductible from business profits, provided appropriate taxes have been withheld thereon and paid to the government treasury. In any case, interest expenditure for acquiring Indian company shares is not tax-deductible.
India has introduced thin capitalization provisions with effect from 1 April 2017. Under these provisions, the total interest deduction for Indian companies and PEs of foreign companies is capped at 30 per cent of EBITDA. Debt issued or guaranteed (including implicit guarantee) by non-resident AEs are also covered. The interest disallowed can be carried forward for 8 years and is deductible in a subsequent year, subject to a cap of 30 percent.
Further, under GAAR provisions (applicable from 1 April 2017), if an arrangement is declared to be an ‘impermissible avoidance agreement’ (IAA), then any equity may be treated as debt and vice versa. Withholding tax on debt and methods to reduce or eliminate it Interest paid by Indian company to a non resident is normally subject to WHT of 21.63 percent. The rate may be reduced under a tax treaty, subject to its conditions.
Specified foreign investors (i.e. foreign institutional investors (FII) and qualified foreign investors (QFI)) are subject to 5.5105 percent WHT on an INR-denominated bond of an Indian company or a government security on which interest is payable after 1 June 2013 and before 1 July 2020. Similarly, the lower WHT of 5.5105 percent on interest paid on ECBs to non- residents is extended to INF-denominated bonds as of 1 April 2016 and the borrowings period is extended to 1 July 2020.
Checklist for debt funding
Most sectors in India have been opened up for foreign investment, so no approvals from the government of India should be necessary for the issue of new shares in these sectors. Certain sectors are subject to restrictions or prohibitions on foreign investment that require the foreign investor to apply to the government of India for a specific approval. Pricing of the shares must comply with guidelines issued by the RBI.
Dividends can be freely repatriated under the current exchange control regulations. Dividends can be declared only out of profits (current and accumulated), subject to certain conditions.
Under the provisions of Indian tax laws, no WHT applies at the time of the distribution of dividends to the shareholders.
However, the domestic company must pay dividend distribution tax (DDT) at the rate of 15 percent excluding surcharge and cess (for an effective tax rate of 20.358 percent after applying grossing-up provisions) on the amount of dividends actually paid to the shareholders. Dividends are not tax-deductible. However, an Indian parent company can take credit for DDT paid by its subsidiary, subject to certain conditions.
Further, dividends paid by domestic companies are exempt for non-resident shareholders if the India company declaring dividend has paid DDT on the dividends distributed. As noted earlier, as of 1 April 2017, India has introduced an additional tax of 10 percent (excluding surcharge and cess) for resident non- corporates (i.e. individuals, firms, LLPs) on dividend income exceeding INR1 million. The additional tax does not apply to non resident shareholders (including foreign companies).
For outbound investments, gross dividends received by an Indian company from a specified foreign company (in which it has shareholding of 26 percent or more) are taxable at a concessional rate of 17.304 percent, subject to certain conditions. Further, credit of such dividends is received against dividends paid by the Indian company for DDT purposes. This treatment aims to encourage the repatriation of income earned by residents from their foreign investments.
Under current company law, equity capital cannot be withdrawn during the lifespan of the company, except through a buy-back of shares. Ten percent of the capital can be bought back with the approval from the board of directors, and up to 25 percent can be bought back with approval of shareholders, subject to other prescribed conditions.
India tax laws levy buy-back tax at the rate of 23.072 percent on the buy-back of shares by an unlisted company to the extent of the amount distributed over the amount received by the company from the shareholders on issuing the shares. The tax is payable by the Indian unlisted company, and buyback proceeds are exempt for the shareholder.
In India, mergers (amalgamations) are infrequently used for acquisition of business, but they are used extensively to achieve a tax-neutral consolidation of legal entities in the course of corporate reorganizations. Amalgamations enjoy favorable treatment under income tax and other laws, subject to certain conditions. The important provisions under Indian laws relating to amalgamation are discussed below.
Indian tax law defines ‘amalgamation’ as a merger of one or more companies into another company or a merger of two or more companies to form a new company such that:
From 1 April 2005, the transfer of a capital asset by a banking company to a banking institution in the course of amalgamating the two banking entities as directed and approved by the RBI is not regarded as a transfer for capital gains purposes. The cost of acquiring the capital asset is deemed to be the cost at which the amalgamating banking company acquired it.
Generally, the transfer of any capital asset is subject to capital gains tax in India. However, amalgamation enjoys tax-neutrality with respect to transfer taxes under Indian tax law — both the amalgamating company transferring the assets and the shareholders transferring their shares in the amalgamating company are exempt from tax. To achieve tax-neutrality for the amalgamating company (or companies) transferring the assets, the amalgamated company should be an Indian company. In addition, to achieve tax-neutrality for the shareholders of the amalgamating company, the entire consideration should comprise shares in the amalgamated company.
Further, India tax laws provide for exemption from capital gains arising pursuant to indirect transfer of shares resulting from a merger or demerger of two foreign companies.
Carry forward and offset of accumulated losses and unabsorbed depreciation
Unabsorbed business losses, including depreciation of capital assets, of the amalgamating company (or companies) are deemed to be those of the amalgamated company in the year of amalgamation. In effect, the business losses get a new lease of life as they may be carried forward for up to 8 years.
However, the carry forward is available only where:
The carry forward of losses on amalgamation is subject to additional conditions under the income tax law.
Other implications of amalgamation include the following.
Corporate reorganizations involving amalgamations of two or more companies require the approval of the National Company Law Tribunal under the amended Companies Act, 2013. As noted, the provisions for inbound and outbound mergers have become effective but the India Exchange Control Regulations for outbound mergers are not yet notified (see ‘Impact of Companies Act, 2013’).
Further, provisions for mergers of specified small companies and of holding/parent companies with wholly owned subsidiary companies can be undertaken without court approval (commonly called ‘fast-track mergers’). Such mergers must be approved by the Jurisdictional Corporate Law Regulator, which typically takes 3 to 4 months.
The transfer of assets, particularly immovable properties, requires registration with the state authorities for purposes of authenticating transfer of title. Such registration requires payment of stamp duty. Stamp duty implications differ from state to state. Generally, rates of stamp duty range from 5 to 10 percent for immovable properties and from 3 to 5 percent for movable properties, usually calculated on the amount of consideration received for the transfer or the market value of the property transferred (whichever is higher). Some state stamp duty laws contain special beneficial provisions for stamp duty on court-approved mergers.
Typically, no GST implications may arise on sale of a business as a whole on a going concern basis wherein all the assets and liabilities (including movable and immovable property, including stock-in-trade and other goods) are transferred under mergers/demergers.
Exchange control regulations
In India, capital account transactions are still not fully liberalized. Certain foreign investments require the approval of the government of India. A court-approved merger is specifically exempt from obtaining any such approvals where, post-merger, the stake of the foreign company does not exceed the prescribed sectoral cap. However, the India Exchange Control Regulations for outbound mergers are yet to be notified.
Takeover code regulations
The acquisition of shares in a listed company beyond a specific percentage triggers implications under the Takeover Code Regulations of SEBI. However, a court-approved merger directly involving the target company is specifically excluded from these regulations. A court-approved merger that indirectly involves the target is also excluded where prescribed conditions are met.
Therefore, a court-approved merger is the most tax-efficient means of corporate consolidation or acquisition, apart from these disadvantages:
Competition Commission of India regulations
Any merger or amalgamation is regarded as a combination if it meets certain threshold requirements; if so, approval from the Competition Commission of India is required. Exemptions are available for an amalgamation of group companies in which more than 50 percent of the shares are held by enterprises within the same group.
General anti-avoidance rule
The GAAR provisions apply only if the tax benefit arising to all parties to an arrangement exceeds INR30 million in the relevant financial year. The GAAR empowers the tax authorities to declare an ‘arrangement’ entered into by a taxpayer to be an IAA, resulting in denial of tax benefits. An IAA is an arrangement the main purpose of which is to obtain a tax benefit and that results in the misuse of tax provisions, lacks commercial substance, is not for a bona fide purpose, or creates rights and obligations not created while dealing at arm’s length.
The GAAR does not apply to arrangements where the court has explicitly and adequately considered the tax implications while sanctioning an arrangement. Also, any ruling by the Authority for Advance Ruling, the Principal Commissioner of Income-tax, Commissioner of Income-tax or the Income-tax authorities is binding in nature and results in non-applicability of GAAR.
The separation of two or more existing business undertakings operated by a single corporate entity can be achieved in a tax- neutral manner under a ‘demerger’. The key provisions under Indian law relating to demerger are discussed below.
Income tax law
Indian tax law defines ‘demerger’ as the transfer of one or more undertakings to any resulting company, pursuant to a court-approved scheme of demerger such that as a result of the demerger:
‘Undertaking’ is defined to include any part of an undertaking or a unit or division of an undertaking or a business activity taken as a whole. It does not include individual assets or liabilities or any combination thereof not constituting a business activity.
In a demerger, the shareholders of the demerged company receive shares in the resultant company. The cost of acquisition of the original shares in the demerged company is split between the shares in the resultant company and the demerged company in the same proportion as the net book value of the assets transferred in a demerger bears to the net worth of the demerged company before demerger. (‘Net worth’ refers to the aggregate of the paid-up share capital and general reserves appearing in the books of account of the demerged company immediately before the demerger.)
Generally, the transfer of any capital asset is subject to transfer tax (capital gains tax) in India. However, a demerger enjoys a dual tax-neutrality with respect to transfer taxes under Indian tax law: both the demerged company transferring the undertaking and the shareholders transferring their part of the value of shares in the demerged company are tax-exempt. To achieve tax-neutrality for the demerged company transferring the undertaking, the resultant company should be an Indian company.
Other provisions of the income tax law are as follows:
Any corporate reorganization involving the demerger of one or more undertakings of a company now requires the approval of the jurisdictional courts of the National Company Law Tribunal. Obtaining the approval normally takes 6 to 8 months.
The transfer of assets, particularly immovable property, requires registration with the state authorities to authenticate transfers of title. Such registration requires payment of stamp duty, which differs from state to state. The rates range from 5 to 10 percent for immovable property and from 3 to 5 percent for movable property. Rates are generally calculated based on the consideration received or the market value of the property transferred, whichever is higher. Some state stamp duty laws contain special stamp duty privilege for court-approved demergers.
Typically, there are no GST implications of a court-approved demerger on a going concern basis.
Exchange control regulations
A court-approved demerger is specifically exempt from obtaining government approval where, following the demerger, the investment of the foreign company does not exceed the sectoral cap.
A court-approved demerger is the most tax-efficient way to effect a divisive reorganization, apart from these disadvantages:
— more procedural formalities and longer time frame of 6 to 8 months
— for tax neutrality, consideration must be the issue of shares of resultant company to shareholders of demerged company.
Preference capital is used in some transaction structuring models. Preference capital has preference over equity shares for dividends and repayment of capital, although it does not carry voting rights. An Indian company cannot issue perpetual (non-redeemable) preference shares. The maximum redemption period for preference shares is 20 years.
Preference dividends can be only declared out of profits. Dividends on preference shares are not a tax deductible cost. Preference dividends on fully convertible preference shares can be freely repatriated under the current exchange control regulations. The maximum rate of dividend (coupon) that can be paid on such preference shares should be in accordance with the norms prescribed by the Ministry of Finance (generally, 300 basis points above the prevailing prime lending rate of the State Bank of India).
The redemption/conversion (into equity) feature of preference shares makes them attractive instruments. Preference capital can only be redeemed out of the profits of the company or the proceeds of a new issue of shares made for the purpose. The preference shares may be converted into equity shares, subject to the terms of the issue of the preference shares.
On the regulatory front, a foreign investment made through fully compulsorily convertible preference shares is treated the same as equity share capital. Accordingly, all regulatory norms applicable for equity apply to such securities. Other types of preference shares (non-convertible, optionally convertible or partially convertible) are considered as debt and must be issued in conformity with the ECB guidelines discussed above in all aspects. Because of the ECB restrictions, such non-convertible and optionally convertible instruments are not often used for funding acquisitions.
Until recently, options (call/put) in investment agreements contravened Indian securities law. However, SEBI now permits contracts consisting of pre-emption rights, such as options, right of first refusal, and tag along/drag-along rights in shareholder or incorporation agreements.
Further, to align this amendment, the RBI has notified that the use of options is subject to certain pricing guidelines that principally do not provide the investor an assured exit price and conditions as to the lock-in period. FDI regulations also permit issue of non-convertible/redeemable bonus preference shares or debentures (bonus instrument) to non-resident shareholders under the automatic route.
Another possibility is the issuance of convertible debt instruments. Interest on convertible debentures normally is allowed as a deduction for tax purposes. However, like preference shares, all compulsorily convertible debentures are treated the same as equity. Other non-convertible, optionally convertible or partly convertible debentures must comply with ECB guidelines.
Concerns of the seller
Both slump sales and itemized sales are subject to capital gains tax in the hands of the sellers. For slump sales, consideration exceeding the net worth of the business is taxed as capital gains. Net worth is calculated under the provisions of the Income Tax Act, 1961. Where the business of the transferor company is held for more than 36 months (24 months for immovable property), such an undertaking is treated as a long-term capital asset and the gains from its transfer are taxed at a rate of 23.072 percent for a domestic company. Otherwise, these gains are taxed at 34.61 percent.
Capital gains taxes arising on an itemized sale depend on the nature of assets, which can be divided into three categories:
The tax implications of a transfer of capital assets (including net current assets other than stock-in-trade) depend on whether the assets are eligible for depreciation under the India tax laws.
For assets on which no depreciation is allowed, consideration in excess of the cost of acquisition and improvement is taxable as a capital gain. If the assets of the business are held for more than 36 months (24 months for immovable property), the assets are classified as long-term capital assets. For listed securities or units of equity-oriented funds or zero coupon bonds, the eligible period for classifying them as long-term assets is 12 months.
The gains arising from transfers of long-term capital assets are taxed at a 23.072 percent rate for a domestic company and 21.63 percent for a foreign company. When calculating the inflation adjustment, the asset’s acquisition cost can be the original purchase cost. Inflation adjustment is calculated on the basis of inflation indices prescribed by the government of India. (Where the capital asset was acquired on or before 1 April 2001, the taxpayer has the option to use the asset’s FMV as of 1 April 2001 for this calculation).
Where the assets of the business are held for not more than 36 months (12 months for listed securities, units of equity-oriented funds and zero coupon bonds and 24 months for immovable property), capital gains on the sale of such short-term capital assets are taxable at the rates of 34.61 percent for a domestic company and 43.26 percent for a foreign company.
For assets on which depreciation has been allowed, the consideration is deducted from the tax written-down value of the block of assets (explained below), resulting in a lower claim for tax depreciation going forward.
If the unamortized amount of the block of assets is less than the consideration received or the block of assets ceases to exist (i.e. there are no assets in the category), the difference is treated as a short-term capital gain and subject to tax at 34.61 percent for a domestic company and at 43.26 percent for a foreign company. If all the assets in a block of assets are transferred and the consideration is less than the unamortized amount of the block of assets, the difference is treated as a short-term capital loss and could be 43.26 offset against capital gains arising in up to 8 succeeding years.
Any gains or losses on the transfer of stock-in-trade are treated as business income or loss. The business income is subject to tax at 34.61 percent for a domestic company and 43.26 percent for a foreign company. Business losses can be offset against income under any category of income arising in that year. If the current year’s income is inadequate, business losses can be carried forward to offset against business profits for 8 succeeding years.
The tax treatment for intangible capital assets is identical to that of tangible capital assets, as discussed earlier.
India’s Supreme Court has held that goodwill arising on amalgamation amounts to an intangible asset that is eligible for depreciation. However, the issue of claiming depreciation on goodwill acquired has been a matter of litigation based on the facts of each case.
The sale of shares is taxed as capital gains for the seller. Further, for the purpose of computing the capital gains tax, where the consideration is less than the FMV of the unlisted shares as computed under the tax laws, the FMV is deemed to be the consideration.
When the shares are held for not more than 24 months (12 months for listed securities, units of equity oriented funds and zero coupon bonds and 24 months for immovable property), the gains are characterized as short-term capital gains and subject to tax at the following rates.
If the transaction is not subject to STT:
If the transaction is subject to STT, short-term capital gains arising on transfers of equity shares are taxed at the following rates:
Where the shares have been held for more than 24 months (12 months for listed securities, units of equity oriented funds and zero coupon bonds and 24 months for immovable property), the gains are characterized as long-term capital gains and subject to tax as follows:
If the transaction is not subject to STT:
Under the previous provisions, if the transaction was subject to STT on sale, long-term capital gains arising on transfers of equity shares were exempt from tax. In order to curb avoidance, the exemption for long-term capital gains has been restricted to only those listed equity shares for which STT was paid at the time of acquisition. However, to protect genuine cases where the STT could not have been paid on acquisition, the India tax Administration has issued a list of all transactions eligible for the exemption for long-term capital gains.
Company law and accounting
The new Companies Act, 2013, governs companies in India, except for certain provisions that are yet to be notified and continue to be governed under the old Companies Act, 1956.
Corporate restructuring in India continues to be governed under the Companies Act, 1956, which incorporates the detailed regulations for corporate restructuring, including corporate amalgamation or demerger. The National Company Law Tribunal must approve all such schemes. The provisions allowing corporate amalgamations or restructuring provide a lot of flexibility. Detailed guidelines are prescribed for other forms of restructuring, such as capital reduction and buy-back.
Accounting norms for companies are governed by the Accounting Standards issued under the Companies Act. Normally, for amalgamations, demergers and restructurings, the Accounting Standards specify the accounting treatment to be adopted for the transaction.
The accounting treatments are broadly aligned with the provisions of the accounting standard covering accounting for amalgamations and acquisitions. The standard prescribes two methods of accounting: merger accounting and acquisition accounting. In merger accounting, all the assets and liabilities of the transferor are consolidated at their existing book values. Under acquisition accounting, the consideration is allocated among the assets and liabilities acquired (on a fair value basis). Therefore, acquisition accounting may give rise to goodwill, which is normally amortized over 5 years.
The government of India has recently notified International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS)-converged Indian Accounting Standards (Ind AS). Under the new Ind AS on amalgamation, all assets and liabilities of the transferor are recorded at their respective fair values. Further, goodwill arising on merger is not amortized; instead it is tested for impairment. The accounting treatment of mergers within a group are separately dealt with under the new Ind AS, which requires all assets and liabilities of the transferor to be recognized at their existing book values only.
The new Ind AS are to be implemented in a phased manner. It became applicable to all listed companies and companies with net worth of INR5 billion or more from 1 April 2016, and to companies with net worth of INR2.5 billion crores or more from 1 April 2017. Other companies will continue to apply existing accounting standards.
After an acquisition, all intercompany transactions, including interest on loans, are subject to transfer pricing regulations.
Foreign investments by a local company
Foreign Investments by an Indian company are regulated by the guidelines issued by the RBI. Broadly, an Indian entity can invest up to 400 percent of its net worth (as per audited accounts) in joint ventures or wholly owned subsidiaries overseas, although investments exceeding USD5 million may be subject to certain pricing guidelines. Currently, there are no controlled foreign companies (CFC) regulations in India.
Advantages of asset purchases
Disadvantages of asset purchases
GST implications need to be considered in an itemized sale of assets. GST is applicable on the movable assets transferred.
Advantages of share purchases
Disadvantages of share purchases
Building No. 10
DLF Cyber City, Phase II
Haryana — 122002
T: +91 (124) 3074025