Draft Taxation Ruling

TR 92/D34

Income tax: valuation of trading stock subject to obsolescence or other special circumstances

  • Please note that the PDF version is the authorised version of this ruling.
    This document has been finalised by TR 93/23.

FOI status:

draft only - for comment

What this Ruling is about
Ruling
Meaning of 'obsolescence'
Valuing stock which by reason of obsolescence requires an alternative valuation
'Special circumstances' for the purposes of subsection 31(2)
Valuing stock which by reason of special circumstances requires an alternative valuation
Lodgment of notices under subsection 31(3)
Date of effect
Explanations
Valuation trading stock - sections 28-31
Meaning of 'obsolescence'
Special circumstances
Examples

Preamble

Draft Taxation Rulings (DTRs) represent the preliminary, though considered, views of the Australian Taxation Office.
DTRs may not be relied on by taxation officers, taxpayers and practitioners. It is only final Taxation Rulings which represent authoritative statements by the Australian Taxation Office of its stance on the particular matters covered in the Ruling.

What this Ruling is about

1. Subsection 31(1) of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 sets out the valuation methods available to a taxpayer when valuing trading stock on hand at the end of an income year. Subsection 31(2) gives the Commissioner a discretion to determine a fair and reasonable value of trading stock that, by reason of obsolescence of, or any other special circumstances relating to, the trading stock, is less than the lowest value that could be applicable under subsection 31(1).

2. This Ruling provides guidance on:

(a)
the meaning of 'obsolescence';
(b)
how to value stock which by reason of obsolescence requires an alternative valuation;
(c)
what circumstances constitute 'special circumstances' for the purposes of subsection 31(2);
(d)
how to value stock in relation to which special circumstances exist; and
(e)
the lodgment of notices under subsection 31(3).

Ruling

3. This Ruling is not intended to fetter officers in the exercise of any discretion under subsection 31(2). The fair and reasonable value of trading stock is determined on a case by case basis. Each case must be decided on its own merits.

Meaning of 'obsolescence'

4. For the purposes of subsection 31(2), 'obsolescence' refers to stock which is either:

(a)
going out of use, going out of date, becoming unfashionable or becoming outmoded (i.e. becoming obsolete); or
(b)
out of use, out of date, unfashionable or outmoded (obsolete stock).

Valuing stock which by reason of obsolescence requires an alternative valuation

A. Stock in the process of becoming obsolete

5. We accept any fair and reasonable value which is calculated taking into account the factors listed in paragraphs 31(2) (a)-(d). In addition to those matters specifically listed in subsection 31 (2) the following factors will also generally be relevant:

(a)
the age of the stock on hand;
(b)
the quantities of the stock on hand compared with the quantities shown in operating and sales budgets;
(c)
the length of time since the last sale of an item of the stock;
(d)
industry experience/taxpayer expertise in relation to the same kind or class of trading stock; and
(e)
if the stock is spare parts:

(i)
the past and future movements of the stock compared with the total number of units in existence on which spares can be used; and
(ii)
the approximate date by which the last of those units can be expected to have gone out of use.

6. If a taxpayer can make a reasonable estimate of the amount of stock which will remain unsold then an accurate value for stock will generally be:

(a)
the full value of stock, under subsection 31(1), which it is reasonable to assume will be sold in the future; plus
(b)
an amount which represents the value of the stock which cannot be sold. If this stock can be sold as scrap, it should be given its scrap value. If the stock cannot be sold as scrap and has no other use (e.g., in manufacturing other stock), it should be valued at a nominal amount so long as it remains on hand.

7. A valuation which creates a precautionary reserve in anticipation of a loss (that is, a valuation which amounts to depreciation of the stock) is not acceptable.

8. Stock can only be written down after it is clearly established that the particular stock has started the process of becoming obsolete. When writing stock down to a fair and reasonable value, a taxpayer may make a once-off write-down or a progressive write-down. A progressive write-down is more appropriate if a taxpayer knows that an amount of trading stock will remain unsaleable but is unable to quantify that amount with any accuracy. The taxpayer should write down only that proportion of the stock which, at the end of the particular income year, is not likely to be sold. A once off write down may be used if the taxpayer can predict accurately the proportion of stock which is likely to be unsold.

9. A standard write down for a particular kind or class of stock will only be accepted if a taxpayer can show that the particular kind or class of stock is always subject to the same degree of obsolescence. If previous models or versions of the stock have suffered differing degrees of obsolescence, a standard write-off will not be accepted.

10. If at the end of the income year it becomes clear that stock written down in a previous year will now be sold in ordinary course of the taxpayer's business then such stock should be revalued using one of the methods in subsection31(1).

B. Obsolete stock

11. A taxpayer must be able to show that there is no prospect of future sales of the stock. If stock is obsolete, a taxpayer's historical accounting data will usually show that, due to the age of the stock, sales have progressively decreased over the preceding income years to such an extent that no more sales of the stock can reasonably be expected. In addition to this information and the other factors listed in paragraphs 5 and 6 of this Ruling, taxpayers should also consider whether the stock has been superseded. Stock is more likely to be obsolete if it has been superseded.

12. As a general rule, any stock which a taxpayer keeps on hand must be attributed some value. Therefore, obsolete stock which remains on hand should generally be valued at its scrap value. A nil valuation for stock is acceptable if the stock is to be 'dumped' or destroyed within a reasonable amount of time after the end of the income year in which it is written down. We generally consider that 6 months is a reasonable amount of time for these purposes. However, a longer period will be allowed if a taxpayer has to wait for government approval to dispose of, or destroy stock. A nil valuation is also acceptable, even though stock is not discarded or destroyed, if the stock has no economic scrap value and is cheaper to keep in storage rather than discard.

'Special circumstances' for the purposes of subsection 31(2)

13. For the purposes of subsection 31(2), special circumstances exist if:

(a)
stock becomes less marketable or useable in manufacture because of changed circumstances which relate to the stock; and
(b)
a true reflection of a taxpayer's taxable income for an income year will not be achieved if stock on hand at the end of that year is valued under subsection 31(1).

14. While it is not possible to give a comprehensive definition of special circumstances, fact situations which we do consider to be special circumstances include:

(a)
a loss of market which spans a period of more than one income year;
(b)
a genuine or unforeseeable error in over-ordering or overproducing stock where the stock is not likely to be sold in the foreseeable future;
(c)
the inability to sell a substantial amount of stock due to damage or physical deterioration;
(d)
an unavoidable overstocking of spare parts to satisfy warranties and future service needs; or
(e)
the failure of a sale of stock which was produced for a customer with particular needs.

Valuing stock which by reason of special circumstances requires an alternative valuation

15. We accept any fair and reasonable value which is calculated taking into account the factors listed in paragraphs 31(2) (a)-(d). In addition to those matters specifically listed in subsection 31(2) the following factors will also generally be relevant:

(a)
the quantities of the stock on hand compared with the quantities shown in operating and sales budgets;
(b)
the length of time since the last sale of an item of the stock;
(c)
industry experience/taxpayer expertise in relation to the same kind or class of trading stock; and
(d)
if the stock is spare parts:

(i)
the past and future movements of the stock compared with the total number of units in existence on which spares can be used; and
(ii)
the approximate date by which the last of those units can be expected to have gone out of use.

16. If a taxpayer can make a reasonable estimate of the amount of stock which will remain unsold as a result of the special circumstances then an accurate value for stock will generally be:

(a)
the full value of stock, under subsection 31(1), which it is reasonable to assume will be sold in the future; plus
(b)
an amount which represents the value of the stock which cannot be sold. If this stock can be sold as scrap, it should be given its scrap value. If the stock cannot be sold as scrap and has no other use (e.g., in manufacturing other stock), it should be valued at a nominal amount so long as it remains on hand.

17. A nil valuation may be justified in exceptional circumstances. For example, a nil valuation is acceptable if, due to the circumstances relating to the stock, the stock is legally unsaleable and cannot be sold for scrap.

18. Stock can only be written down after it is clearly established that special circumstances apply to the particular stock. When writing stock down to a fair and reasonable value, a taxpayer may make a once-off write-down or a progressive write-down. A progressive write-down is more appropriate if a taxpayer knows that an amount of trading stock will remain unsaleable but is unable to quantify that amount with any accuracy. The taxpayer should write down only that proportion of the stock which, at the end of the particular income year, is not likely to be sold. A once off write down may be used if the taxpayer can predict accurately the proportion of stock which is likely to be unsold.

19. A standard write down for a particular kind or class of stock will only be accepted if a taxpayer can show that the particular kind or class of stock is always subject to special circumstances in the same degree. If previous models or versions of the stock have suffered differing degrees of special circumstances, a standard write-off will not be accepted.

20. While it is acceptable to decide what stock was subject to special circumstances after the end of an income year, the circumstances that caused the stock to be subject to special circumstances must have occurred in the particular income year. Stock cannot be written down in anticipation that special circumstances will arise in the future.

21. If at the end of the income year it becomes clear that stock written down in a previous year will now be sold in ordinary course of the taxpayer's business then such stock should be revalued using one of the methods in subsection 31(1).

Lodgment of notices under subsection 31(3)

22. In accordance with Taxation Rulings IT 2624 and IT 2662 and the authority conferred on us by subsection 31(3), the time within which taxpayers are required to notify the Commissioner in writing that they wish subsection 31(2) to apply is extended until such time as we require the notification to be made. However, if taxpayers do choose to value stock under subsection 31(2), they must maintain all records necessary to support the valuation applied to the stock.

Date of effect

23. This Ruling (that is, the final Taxation Ruling based on this Draft Taxation Ruling) sets out the current practice of the Australian Taxation Office and is not concerned with a change in interpretation. Consequently, it applies (subject to any limitations imposed by statute) for years of income commencing both before and after the date on which it is issued.

Explanations

Valuing trading stock- sections 28-31

24. Section 28 requires a taxpayer to bring to account each year, opening and closing values of trading stock on hand. If the value of closing trading stock on hand exceeds the value of opening trading stock on hand, the excess is to be included in the taxpayer's assessable income. If the value of opening trading stock on hand exceeds the value of closing trading stock on hand, the excess is an allowable deduction. Subsection 31(1) gives the taxpayer the option of valuing stock on hand at the end of the year of income at cost price, market selling value or the price at which it can be replaced.

25. The inclusion in a taxpayer's assessable income of the value of any trading stock on hand at the end of a year of income in excess of the value of trading stock on hand at the beginning of that year ensures that, in the ordinary course of a business, the taxpayer's deduction for trading stock purchased in that year reflects the cost of the sales of stock made in that year. However, subsection 31(2) recognises that a stock value ascertained in accordance with subsection 31(1) will be inappropriate if the stock cannot be sold or otherwise used to produce assessable income. Subsection 31(2) states that the following matters are relevant in determining a fair and reasonable value in such circumstances:

(a)
the quantity of the trading stock on hand at the end of the year of income;
(b)
the quantity of trading stock sold, exchanged or used in manufacture by the taxpayer after the end of the year of income and the prospects of sale, exchange or use in manufacture of further quantities of that trading stock;
(c)
the quantity of trading stock of the same kind sold, exchanged or used in manufacture by the taxpayer during the year of income and preceding years of income; and
(d)
such other matters as the Commissioner considers relevant.

Meaning of 'obsolescence'

26. The Macquarie dictionary does not define the word 'obsolescence'. However, the Shorter Oxford English dictionary defines obsolescence as 'the process of becoming obsolete'. Applying this definition into subsection 31(2), an alternative valuation of trading stock is allowed if, by reason of the process of becoming obsolete, the value of the trading stock to be taken into account at the end of the income year is less than the amount that is the lowest value that could be applicable under subsection 31(1). The words 'by reason of the process' carry both a past and present connotation, that is, 'the process' referred to may have already taken place or may be presently taking place. Therefore, given its context in subsection 31(2), we consider that the term 'obsolescence' covers both:

(a)
stock which is currently in the process of becoming obsolete, i.e., obsolescent stock; and
(b)
stock which has passed through the process of becoming obsolete, i.e., obsolete stock.

27. The clear intention at the time subsection 31(2) was introduced was to allow obsolescent and obsolete stock to be valued at an amount less than the lowest valuation available under subsection 31(1). That intention is explicitly stated in the Explanatory Memorandum accompanying the Bill which substituted the current version of section 31 (i.e., the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Bill (No.2) 1963).

28. We also note that obsolete stock held by a taxpayer who does not normally deal in obsolete items, does not have a market selling value for the purposes of subsection 31(1). In Australasian Jam Co. Pty Ltd v. FC of T (1953) 88 CLR 23 at 31, Fullagar J said in relation to the term 'market selling value':


'It is not to be supposed that the expression ..... contemplates a sale on the most disadvantageous terms conceivable. It contemplates, in my opinion, a sale or sales in the ordinary course of the company's business - such sales as are in fact effected. Such expressions in such provisions must be interpreted in a common sense way with due regard to business realities, and it may well be ..... that, in arriving at market selling value, it is legitimate to make allowance for the fact that normal selling will take place over a period. But the supposition of a forced sale on one particular day seems to me to have no relation to business reality.' (emphasis added).

29. It is our view that 'market selling value' refers to the value in the market in which the taxpayer normally sells. Taxpayers who seek to value stock under subsection 31(2) do not normally sell in a market for obsolete items.

30. Trading stock may be considered as being in the process of becoming obsolete and valued under subsection 31(2) if a taxpayer can show that stock on hand is going out of use, etc., and that in consequence a certain amount of the stock will therefore remain unsold. The valuation should recognise that a loss has already been sustained by a taxpayer. The valuation should recognise that the taxpayer has bought or manufactured stock which will not be sold or used in manufacture.

Special circumstances

31. As noted in paragraph 25 of this Ruling, the purpose of subsection 31(2) is to allow a valuation of trading stock on hand at the end of an income year which gives a true reflection of a taxpayer's income for that year. The intention of the provision is to allow a valuation of trading stock, lower than a subsection 31(1) valuation, if the circumstances show that the stock will not be as marketable or as useable in manufacture in the future.

32. Unlike stock which is subject to obsolescence, a decreasing saleability or useability in manufacture of stock because of its increasing age does not, on its own, determine the existence of special circumstances in relation to that stock. Therefore, stock which is new and generally in use may nevertheless be subject to special circumstances if the stock is unsaleable or unusable in manufacture because of circumstances which relate to it.

Examples

33. Whether trading stock is in the process of becoming obsolete, obsolete or subject to special circumstances depends on the circumstances of the particular case. Therefore, the answers given in the following examples are not determinative of our views on cases with similar, but different, facts. It is necessary to look at all the circumstances in each individual case.

Overproduction of goods

34. Plastico Pty Ltd produce plastic containers which are ultimately used for containing foodstuffs and beverages. During the 1991-92 income year, Plastico made a slight miscalculation in the number of ice-cream containers it had to produce to satisfy its contracts with ice-cream producers. As a result, Plastico have an excess of ice-cream containers on hand at the end of the year. The containers are only suitable for food and beverages. The particular excess containers have the brand names of various customers printed on them. Contracts with those customers have not been renewed and therefore Plastico will not be able to use the containers to satisfy future orders. The only other option Plastico has is to sell the containers as regrind material for use in non-foodstuff/beverage products.

35. These circumstances constitute special circumstances for the purposes of subsection 31(2). The stock is not obsolescent or obsolete. Ice-cream containers of the same kind are still in use and are not going out of use. However, a true reflection of the taxpayer's income would not be achieved if the excess stock were to carry a subsection 31(1) valuation at the end of the income year.

36. Plastico may value the stock at an amount equal to that for which the containers can be sold as regrind materials.

Progressive write-down of obsolescent stock

37. 37. Funco is an importer and wholesaler of toys. The toy market is subject to regular market changes. It is common for various models of toys to be discounted or superseded. One line of stock imported by Funco is hand-held electronic games. These games are based on a standard form of technology but are subject to regular changes in format in line with market tastes. Games which cannot be sold in Funco's normal selling market are sold for scrap.

38. Having regard to the amount of stock on hand, past and projected sales of games, and industry experience, Funco finds that the games become less marketable over time and makes a rough estimate that the following amounts of stock on hand will not be sold:

Age of stock (yrs) Percentage unsold
1-2 10
2-3 25
3 or more 40

39. On the basis of this estimate, 25 percent of Funco's stock on hand at the end of the income year will not be sold. However, Funco is only certain that 10 percent of its stock on hand at the end of the year will remain unsold. Therefore, Funco can write-down 10 percent of its stock on hand at the end of the year to its scrap value. The position in relation to the remaining 15 percent of stock should be assessed in the following income years - this stock can only be written down to its scrap value once Funco can say with a degree of accuracy that it will not be sold.

Goods which are subject to 'use by' dates

40. Synthetico Pty Ltd produces a pharmaceutical product which is used to treat an illness in dogs. The product has a life-span of 24 months and is not saleable in any form after it passes its use by date. At the end of the income year, Synthetico have the following amounts of the product on hand:

(a)
100 items which are within 5 months of their use by date; and
(b)
100 items which are past their use by date and which will be disposed of within 6 months of the end of the income year.

41. Category (a) items: having regard to the quantity of stock on hand at the end of the year, the amount of stock sold after the end of the income year, the quantities of the stock sold in the income and preceding years and industry experience, only 20% of this stock will be sold before it reaches its use by date. The stock is considered obsolescent because its saleability is decreasing with age. A fair and reasonable value for this stock would be:

(a)
20% of the stock valued under subsection 31(1); plus
(b)
an amount which fairly represents the value of the remaining stock (i.e., 80% of the items). This amount should be given a nominal value while it remains saleable.

42. Category (b) items: this stock is considered obsolete because its age makes it unsaleable. The fact that the company is going to dispose of the stock confirms its obsoleteness. A nil value is fair and reasonable in these circumstances.

Stock which cannot be sold because it is defective

43. Animalco manufactures veterinary products. One of the products Animalco produces is 'licequine'. Licequine is a shampoo which removes lice from horses. A recent batch of licequine was found to be contaminated with chemicals such that:

(a)
it couldn't be returned to its correct form; and
(b)
it was legally unsaleable.

Animalco will dispose of the contaminated batch after it receives approval from the relevant government authority.

44. These circumstances are considered special circumstances for the purposes of subsection 31(2). Writing the stock into income at the end of the year would not give a true reflection of Animalco's income for the year because the stock will not be sold in the future. As none of the stock will be sold in the future and the stock has no scrap value, the stock should be valued at nil at year end.

Circumstances causing a low value must exist during the income year

45. Dateco manufacture calendars for sale to overseas markets. At 30 June 1991, Dateco had a stock of 1992 calendars on hand. When it prepared its return for the 1990-91 income year, Dateco valued the calendars at the actual average selling price achieved during the 1992 year. That value was less than any subsection 31(1) valuation available. Dateco argue that this valuation is valid because special circumstances existed at the end of the 1990-91 income year in that a slow market was being predicted for the sale of calendars during 1992.

46. The valuation is disallowed. The calendars on hand at the end of the 1990-91 income year should have been valued in accordance with subsection 31(1). Predicting a slow market does not constitute special circumstances for the purposes of subsection 31(2). While it is acceptable to decide what stock was subject to special circumstances after the end of an income year, the circumstances that caused the stock to be subject to special circumstances must have occurred before year end.

Spare parts which become obsolescent

47. Cycleco manufactures widgets, a type of spare part for a particular make and model of motor bike. Cycleco sells the widgets to the relevant motor cycle distributors. Over the past two years, the sale of widgets has dropped dramatically. Current sales are about 2 per cent per annum of the present stock level. The main reason for the drop in sales appears to be due to the age of the model bike for which widgets are made. The bikes usually developed problems after about ten years use and it is now cheaper to replace the bikes than overhaul them. As a result, most owners are scrapping their bikes when they develop major problems.

48. After considering the factors in paragraphs 31(2)(a)-(c), the quantities of stock on hand compared with the quantities shown in operating and sales budgets, and the decreased number of bikes that are on the road, Cycleco estimates that sales of widgets will decrease further over the next five years to the stage where only a negligible amount of widgets will be sold. Specifically, Cycleco estimates the following sales of widgets:

(a)
current sales maintained for the next 3 years (i.e., sales of 2 per cent per annum of the present stock level);
(b)
sales of 1 per cent per annum of the present stock level for the 4th and 5th years;
(c)
negligible sales after 5 years.

The widgets will remain on hand indefinitely. Cycleco should value the stock on hand as follows:

(a)
8 per cent of the stock (i.e., 3 years sales at 2 per cent of present stock levels and 2 years sales at 1 per cent of present stock levels) should carry a value which is acceptable under subsection 31(1);
(b)
the remainder of the stock should carry a value which is fair and reasonable given that the stock is to remain on hand indefinitely and future sales may occur.

Spare parts which are subject to special circumstances

49. The Techno car company is a Japanese car manufacturer which produces cars for the Australian market. Middleco Pty Ltd owns the Australian distribution rights for Techno cars. Mr and Mrs Smith own a motor vehicle dealership in Perth called 'City Techno Sales' (CTS). They deal exclusively in Techno cars and provide a complete customer back-up service which includes sales of spare parts. Under their agreement with Middleco, CTS are obliged to carry certain types and quantities of spare parts for all models of Techno cars.

Generally, the amount of stock carried is more than is actually required. However, the stock must be carried to ensure that the best customer service is available, for example, by having parts immediately available to cover customer warranties. If the stock were not held by CTS, they would have to order it from Japan. It usually takes about a month to get a part from Japan.

50. One range of spare parts held by CTS relate to a car called the 'Harmony', which was produced from 1978 to 1980. The Harmony has been a very reliable car and sales or use of spare parts for it have been very low since it was first introduced onto the market. Sales are now very irregular. It is unlikely that the sales of spare parts for Harmony cars will ever increase. It is CTS's experience that owners of older model cars use generic brand name parts rather than genuine parts.

51. Taking into account the present level of sales of Harmony spare parts, forecast sales, the age of the parts and the factors outlined above, CTS estimate that only a negligible amount of the parts on hand will be sold. Therefore, a fair and reasonable value for Harmony spare parts would be an amount which approximates expected future sales plus any scrap value of excess stock. In this particular case, a scrap value of 20% of cost is considered to be fair and reasonable.

Commissioner of Taxation
5 November 1992

Not previously issued in draft form.

References

ATO references:
NO 92/8001-4

ISSN 1039 - 0731

Subject References:
obsolescent trading stock
obsolete trading stock
trading stock
valuation of trading stock

Legislative References:
ITAA 28
ITAA 31(1)
ITAA 31(2)
ITAA 31(3)

Case References:
Australian Jam Co. Pty Ltd v. FC of T
(1953) 88 CLR 23