Choosing Transfer pricing methods: CUP or TNMM?


In the area of international business, where transactions occur between related entities across different jurisdictions, ensuring that prices are set at arm’s length is extremely important. Transfer Pricing, the practice of determining the prices charged in these transactions, plays the main role in maintaining fairness and transparency within multinational corporations.

Among the various methodologies employed for Transfer Pricing analysis, two prominent approaches stand out: the Comparable Uncontrolled Price (CUP) method and the Transactional Net Margin Method (TNMM). These methods offer distinct frameworks for assessing the appropriateness of prices in controlled transactions by comparing them to prices or profit margins in transactions between unrelated parties. Understanding the nuances and differences between the CUP method and the TNMM method is essential for multinational enterprises, tax authorities, and practitioners alike, as they navigate the complexities of international tax compliance and Transfer Pricing regulations.


The CUP method evaluates the pricing and terms of goods or services exchanged within a controlled transaction, where the parties involved are related entities. This assessment involves comparing these prices and conditions with those observed in an uncontrolled transaction, where unrelated parties are involved. For effective use of the CUP method, it’s crucial to have comparable data between the controlled and uncontrolled transactions. These data must have a high degree of similarity to ensure that the prices being compared are truly comparable in nature.

Having in mind the fact, that the CUP method needs to compare products or services that are nearly identical, it’s widely regarded as the most robust and dependable approach for establishing arm’s length prices in controlled transactions. Meeting the strict comparability criteria demanded by the CUP method poses a considerable obstacle. Identifying a transaction that truly mirrors the controlled transaction in all relevant aspects is not an easy task.

The CUP serves as one of the most straightforward means of determining the appropriate price for a controlled transaction, as it represents the price that would prevail in an open market scenario for the same transaction involving unrelated parties. Consequently, where the CUP meets the strict comparability criteria then it should be used.

In real-world scenarios, numerous potential CUPs are disregarded because they fail to meet one or more comparability criteria. These criteria, which include factors like market conditions, transaction volumes, and positions within the supply chain, must closely align between the controlled and uncontrolled transactions for a valid comparison. In various industries, even minor deviations in circumstances between two transactions can significantly influence the resulting price.


The TNMM method focuses on comparing the net profit margins achieved by a company in a controlled transaction with those of comparable independent companies engaged in similar activities. By assessing whether the net profit margins of the related party align with those of independent entities, relative to factors like costs, sales, or assets, TNMM determines if the transfer price is at arm’s length.

The TNMM operates on the principle that companies operating within the same industry and under similar conditions typically generate comparable profits over time. It’s widely used because of its broad applicability and straightforward implementation, relying primarily on financial data.

One major benefit of the TNMM is the abundance of publicly available data on the net profits generated by similar independent businesses engaged in comparable trading activities within the same markets. This wealth of accessible data makes the TNMM comparatively simpler to implement than methods like Cost Plus or Resale Price Margin (RPM). Additionally, the TNMM is less affected by slight variations in the products being traded, further enhancing its practicality and reliability.

The primary drawback of the TNMM arises from the specific challenge of ensuring that the publicly available data accurately reflects comparable companies that closely resemble the tested party. Due to this limitation, there is often insufficient assurance that the selected comparable companies truly mirror the characteristics and circumstances of the tested entity, potentially leading to inaccuracies in the transfer pricing analysis.

Differences between CUP and TNMM

Let’s discuss a few differences between the two methods:

  1. Nature of Comparison:
  • CUP Method: This method directly compares the price charged in a controlled transaction to the price charged in an uncontrolled transaction for similar goods or services. It relies on finding identical or highly similar transactions between unrelated parties.
  • TNMM Method: TNMM compares the net profit margins earned in controlled transactions to those earned in comparable uncontrolled transactions, considering the net profit relative to an appropriate base (e.g., sales, costs, assets).
  1. Level of Comparability:
  • CUP Method: It requires a high degree of comparability between the controlled and uncontrolled transactions in terms of product, terms, market conditions, and other relevant factors. Finding directly comparable transactions can be challenging.
  • TNMM Method: While also requiring comparability, TNMM allows for more flexibility in selecting comparable companies or transactions. It focuses on comparing the overall profitability rather than specific transactional details.
  1. Data Availability and Reliability:
  • CUP Method: It heavily relies on the availability of reliable and comparable data on uncontrolled transactions. Finding such data can be difficult, especially for unique or specialized products or services.
  • TNMM Method: TNMM may be more feasible when comparable data for specific transactions are not readily available. It often utilizes financial data from comparable companies or industry benchmarks to assess profitability.
  1. Complexity:
  • CUP Method: While conceptually straightforward, the practical application of the CUP method can be complex due to the challenges in finding directly comparable transactions.
  • TNMM Method: TNMM involves more complexities in selecting comparable companies, defining the relevant financial metrics, and making adjustments for differences between the controlled and uncontrolled transactions.
  1. Applicability:
  • CUP Method: It is typically preferred when reliable comparable transactions can be found, especially for tangible goods with easily observable market prices.
  • TNMM Method: TNMM is often used when it’s difficult to find directly comparable transactions or when the controlled transactions involve unique products or services.

The choice between the TNMM and the CUP method in Transfer Pricing depends on the availability of data, the nature of the transactions, and the specific circumstances of the transfer pricing analysis.

Here are some considerations for when to choose each method:

When to choose CUP:

  • Highly Comparable Transactions: CUP is preferred when there are directly comparable transactions between unrelated parties that closely resemble the controlled transactions in terms of product, terms, market conditions, and other relevant factors.
  • Availability of Comparable Transactions: If there is readily available and reliable data on comparable uncontrolled transactions, particularly for tangible goods with easily observable market prices, CUP may be the preferred method.
  • Transparency and Simplicity: CUP method offers a straightforward approach by directly comparing prices charged in controlled and uncontrolled transactions. It may be preferred when transparency and simplicity are important considerations.
  • Clear Market Prices: In markets where prices for the relevant goods or services are well-established and transparent, CUP method can be more straightforward to apply.
  • Legal and Regulatory Considerations: In some jurisdictions, tax authorities or regulations may favor the use of the CUP method in certain circumstances, such as for specific types of transactions or industries.

When to choose TNMM:

  • Lack of Comparable Transactions: TNMM is often chosen when it’s challenging to find directly comparable transactions between unrelated parties. This could be due to the uniqueness of the products or services involved or the absence of reliable market data.
  • Unique or Specialized Products/Services: When the controlled transactions involve unique or specialized products or services for which there are no comparable uncontrolled transactions, TNMM may be more suitable. TNMM allows for the comparison of overall profitability rather than specific transaction details.
  • Availability of Financial Data: TNMM relies on financial data from comparable companies or industry benchmarks to assess profitability. If there is readily available and reliable financial data for comparable companies, TNMM can be a viable option.
  • Flexibility in Comparability: TNMM offers more flexibility in selecting comparable companies or transactions compared to the CUP method. It allows for adjustments to be made for differences in factors such as product characteristics, market conditions, and business models.
  • Complex Transaction Structures: TNMM can be suitable for complex transaction structures involving multiple interrelated transactions or integrated supply chains where it may be difficult to isolate specific comparable transactions.

The CUP method stands out for its direct comparison of prices in controlled and uncontrolled transactions, providing a clear benchmark for determining arm’s length prices. However, its effectiveness heavily depends on the availability of truly comparable data, which can often be challenging to obtain due to strict comparability criteria.

On the other hand, the TNMM offers broad applicability and ease of implementation, leveraging publicly available financial data to compare net profit margins of similar entities engaged in comparable activities. Despite its practicality, the TNMM may suffer from a lack of assurance regarding the comparability of selected independent companies, potentially leading to inaccuracies in transfer pricing assessments.

The choice between the CUP and the TNMM depends on the specific circumstances of the controlled transactions, including the availability of comparable data, the nature of the products or services involved, and the level of confidence required in the Transfer Pricing analysis. In some cases, a combination of methods or the use of additional Transfer Pricing methodologies may be necessary to ensure a comprehensive and accurate assessment of arm’s length prices.





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