Swiss Supreme Court issued decision on currency translation differences

Recently the Swiss Supreme Court held that foreign exchange differences resulting from conversions of financial statements kept in a currency other than the Swiss Franc into the Swiss currency have to be recorded as part of the equity and cannot be treated as losses or gains. As a result, they do not qualify as taxable income or expense. With its ruling, the Supreme Court overruled the principle of imparity that requires that losses are to be recognized immediately while unrealized foreign currency gains are deffered.

The decision resulted from a dispute over a tax report filed by a corporation incorporated in Geneva, Switzerland. The company had based its tax report on their “statutory financial report” which is required under Art. 960 of the Swiss Code of Obligations. In this statutory account the company converted all its accounts from US Dollars into Swiss Francs, expensed their foreign exchange gains and losses that normally result from such a conversion immediately, and treated them as tax relevant gains or losses.

After the Supreme Court ruling, this is no longer possible. Companies have to record such translation differences directly in their equity account and not on their income statement.

The court based its reasoning on achieving consistency with the International Financial Accounting Standards (IFRS), in particular with IFRS 21. This statute differentiates between translation differences and differences resulting from foreign currency transactions. The latter result from operating activities that include two different currencies. They are still taxable and are to be accounted for in on the income statement. Translation differences, however, only result from the application of Art. 960 of the Swiss Code of Obligations and are therefore “fictitious in nature”.

The decision is considered binding for federal tax reports as well as communal taxes and the Swiss Federal Tax Administration is discussing a way to apply the decision consitently. Companies that keep their accounts in a foreign functional currency and have to file a tax report in Switzerland will have to review their tax returns and their approach to filing reports in Switzerland. It is not clear if the ruling will be applied retroactively for federal tax returns. Geneva plans to do so.

Best regards
und viele Grüße aus Charlotte
Reinhard von Hennigs