Delhi High Court Upholds Taxpayer's Choice in Angel Tax Valuation

Delhi HC recently upheld taxpayer's choice in Angel Tax valuation method, endorsing DCF but allowing FMV. Expert insights underscore legal provisions, emphasising due diligence. Read the article for details.

Swati Dayal
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Delhi High Court on Valuation

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In a recent development, the Delhi  High Court has rendered a significant ruling concerning the valuation methodology for determining the Angel Tax. The court upheld the taxpayer's right to choose the valuation method, specifically endorsing the Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) method. However, it also clarified that the Income Tax Department retains the authority to opt for an independent Fair Market Value (FMV) determination if deemed necessary.

Court Order and Valuation Methodology

According to the court order, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court upheld the valuation methodology adopted by the taxpayer, granting relief from the applicability of Section 56(2)(viib) of the Income Tax Act (ITA), commonly known as the "Angel Tax." The ruling emphasized the use of the DCF valuation method by the assessee for determining the value per share during a fund-raising exercise.

The court stressed that despite any discrepancies between projected revenues and actual earnings, the chosen valuation method should not be dismissed as erroneous. It acknowledged the inherent uncertainty in valuation, emphasizing that it cannot be exact science but rather relies on estimations and assumptions.


What is DCF Methodology for Valuation?

Discounted cash flow (DCF) valuation is a financial model that discounts future cash flows to present value. For example, the time value of money principle suggests that a dollar today holds more worth than one received tomorrow due to investment potential. DCF analysis assesses present value of future cash flows. If DCF value exceeds initial investment, it's a viable opportunity. Estimates of future cash flows and an appropriate discount rate are essential for DCF analysis, though alternative models may be needed for complex projects.

What is Fair Market Value (FMV) Methodology for Valuation?

Fair market value (FMV) represents the estimated price an asset would command on the open market between knowledgeable, willing buyers and sellers, free from undue pressure. It's pivotal in asset valuation for transactions like sales, mergers, or financial reports. In taxation, FMV determines income, estate, and property taxes, ensuring accuracy and compliance. Market fluctuations influence FMV, impacting valuations and tax outcomes, making it a cornerstone in financial decision-making and negotiations.

Background of the Case, Arguments and Judicial Precedents

The case involved a private limited company operating in the entertainment sector, which issued shares at a substantial premium to identified investors during the fiscal year 2015. The valuation, based on the DCF methodology, was challenged by the Assessing Officer (AO) during the tax assessment, leading to the imposition of tax under Section 56(2)(viib) of the ITA.

The AO contested the valuation primarily on the grounds of discrepancies between revenue projections and actual earnings, as well as the utilization of funds for investments in associated enterprises. However, the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) and subsequently, the Delhi High Court, relied on past judicial precedents to assert that valuation should be based on prescribed methodologies and not subject to arbitrary rejections.

"The Assessee is a private limited company engaged in the business of entertainment. During the tax year of FY15, the assessee had issued shares at a high premium of INR 90.9 Crs to identified set of investors. The shares were issued basis valuation report obtained from Independent Chartered Accountant using the DCF methodology which is one of prescribed methodology under Section 56(2)(viib) of the ITA r.w. Rule 11UA(2)(b) of the Income-tax Rules.

The funds so raised by the assessee from identified set of investors were utilized for making onward investments in its associate enterprises through a combination of shares and 0%(Zero) debentures.

During the course of tax assessment for FY15, the Assessing Officer (‘AO’) contested the valuation methodology basis value per share issued to the investors was determined.........The investments made by the assessee in its Associated Enterprises had no potential of generating returns as majority of the investments in zero (0)% debentures had resulted in a loss and thus there was no way the assessee could have substantiated the revenue projections which were considered for valuation.

The ratio of share capital to share premium (i.e. 1:2602) at which investments were made by the investors in the assessee was very high when compared to the ratio of share premium to share capital (i.e. 1:4) when the funds were used by the assessee for making investments in its associated enterprises which further raises questions on the viability of the revenue projections considered for the purpose of valuation.

In light of the above, the DCF methodology adopted by the assessee for share valuation was rejected and was considered to be not in accordance with Section 56(2)(viib) of the ITA r.w. Rule 11UA(2)(b) of the ITR.

Consequent to the above, share premium amounting to INR 90.9 Crs was taxed as ‘Income from Other Sources’ under Section 56(2)(viib) of the ITA." - The Delhi High Court Order highlighted.

Expert Speaks

Mr Vivek Karwanyoon, Managing Partner, Perfect 1 One Partners, elucidated the significance of the High Court's order. He highlighted the legal provisions allowing for two valuation methods: DCF and FMV. 

Vivek emphasized that the DCF method, though based on estimates, remains valid as long as it's diligently applied. He underscored that the court's ruling doesn't alter existing tax laws but rather reaffirms the importance of due diligence in valuation exercises.

Vivek Karwanyoon

The High Court order is clear. Essentially, a startup received investment from angel investors at a premium. However, some of the promised investment didn't materialize. The valuation was done using the discounted cash flow (DCF) method. The Income Tax department challenged this valuation, deeming it incorrect and valuing the shares at zero, resulting in the premium being taxed as other income. However, the rule permits using either DCF or fair market value methods. The ruling emphasizes the importance of due diligence in valuation.- Vivek Karwanyoon.

What The High Court Held?

The High Court Order states that - The Hon’ble ITAT has correctly followed the judicial precedents laid down by Hon’ble High Courts and ITAT wherein the appellate authorities have relied upon the commercial prudence of the tax payers while undertaking valuation of assets.

The valuation of shares was correctly undertaken by the assessee by following the DCF methodology which is one of the methods prescribed under the ITA.

The mere fact that the actual performance of the assessee did not match with the projections which were considered for the purpose of DCF valuation, cannot be base for rejecting the valuation adopted by the assessee

It is a well accepted fact, duly recognized by the Hon’ble Courts that valuation is not an exact science and thus cannot be done with arithmetic precision.

The AO without providing any rationale had rejected the valuation undertaken by the assessee and has failed to provide any appropriate value which could be considered as ‘fair’ value of shares.

The assessee has adopted the valuation methodology prescribed under the ITA and is backed by appropriate workings and documentation.

The third party investors (who are seasoned and renowned businessmen) have relied upon the valuation and accepted the same basis their commercial acumen and the potential they saw in the business at the time of investment.

Further the AO was unable to place any evidence on record which could substantiate that the valuation methodology adopted was incorrect.

Key Takeaways and Implications of the Order

The ruling reinforces the principle that valuation exercises, when conducted in accordance with prescribed methodologies, should not be disputed solely on the basis of post-facto performance variations. This decision is poised to aid startups grappling with Angel Tax-related challenges and offers clarity on the acceptable methods for valuation.

While the ruling provides a reprieve for businesses backed by angel investors, it underscores the need for robust valuation practices supported by industry-specific assumptions and financial projections aligned with market standards.

In essence, the High Court's decision underscores the importance of adherence to prescribed valuation methodologies, ensuring fairness and transparency in tax assessments while also acknowledging the inherent uncertainties in valuation exercises.

The ruling serves as a guiding beacon for taxpayers navigating the complexities of Angel Tax assessments, emphasizing compliance with prescribed methodologies and due diligence in valuation practices.

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