Judgments and estimates
The presentation of the results of operations or financial position in the consolidated financial statements is dependent upon and sensitive to the accounting policies, assumptions, and estimates. The actual amounts may differ from those estimates. The following critical accounting estimates and related assumptions and uncertainties inherent in accounting policies applied are essential to understand the underlying financial reporting risks and the effects that these accounting estimates, assumptions, and uncertainties may have on the consolidated financial statements.
Measurement of property, plant and equipment, and intangible assets involves the use of estimates for determining the fair value at the acquisition date, provided they were acquired in a business combination. Furthermore, the expected useful lives of these assets must be estimated. The determination of the fair values of assets and liabilities, as well as of the useful lives of the assets is based on management’s judgment. The measurement of intangible assets acquired in barter transactions is based on management’s judgment as to whether a barter transaction has commercial substance. For this, an analysis is performed to determine to what extent the future cash flows (risk, timing, and amount) are expected to change as a consequence of the transaction. Information from external experts is obtained for this analysis and for the determination of the fair values of assets.
The determination of impairments of property, plant and equipment, intangible assets, and right-of-use assets involves the use of estimates that include, but are not limited to, the cause, timing, and amount of the impairment. Impairment is based on a large number of factors, such as changes in current competitive conditions, expectations of growth in the telecommunications industry, increased cost of capital, changes in the future availability of financing, technological obsolescence, discontinuance of services, current replacement costs, prices paid in comparable transactions, and other changes in circumstances that may indicate an impairment. Management is required to make significant judgments concerning the identification and validation of impairment indicators, as well as the estimation of future cash flows and the determination of fair values for assets (or groups of assets), applicable discount rates, useful lives, and residual values of the relevant assets. Specifically, the estimation of cash flows underlying the fair values from the mobile business considers the continued investment in network infrastructure required to generate future revenue growth through the offering of new data products and services, for which only limited historical information on customer demand is available. If the demand for these products and services did not materialize as expected, this would result in less revenue, less cash flow, and potential impairment. In addition, when determining fair values, further planning uncertainties that reflect the risks of macroeconomic development could adversely affect future results of operations.
The determination of the recoverable amount of a cash-generating unit involves the use of estimates by management. Methods used to calculate the recoverable amount include discounted cash flow-based methods and methods that use market prices as a basis. The discounted cash flow valuations refer to projections that are based on financial plans that have been approved by management and are also used for internal purposes. The chosen planning horizon reflects the assumptions for short- to medium-term market developments and is selected to achieve a steady state in the business outlook that is necessary for calculating the perpetual annuity. This steady state will only be reached based on the planning horizon selected, in particular due to the sometimes long investment cycles in the telecommunications industry and the investments planned and expected in the long run to acquire and extend spectrum licenses. Cash flows beyond the internal mid-term planning are extrapolated using appropriate growth rates defined separately for each cash-generating unit. These growth rates are based on real growth and inflation expected in the long term for the countries in which the respective unit operates. To achieve the sustainable growth rates set for the period of the perpetual annuity, additional sustainable investments derived specifically for each cash-generating unit are taken into account. The key assumptions on which management has based its calculation of the recoverable amount include the following assumptions that were primarily derived from internal sources and are based on past experience and extended by current internal expectations, and that are underscored by external market data and estimates: development of revenue, customer acquisition and retention costs, churn rates, capital expenditure, market share, and growth rates. Discount rates are determined on the basis of external figures derived from the market, taking account of the risks associated with the cash-generating unit (market and country risks). Any future changes in the aforementioned assumptions could have a significant impact on the fair values of the cash-generating units. Changes in the assumptions may have a negative impact, as a result of future macroeconomic trends, continued intense competition, further possible legislation changes (e.g., as part of national austerity programs), and regulatory intervention.
Management recognizes an allowance for doubtful accounts to account for expected losses resulting from payment default of customers. When evaluating the adequacy of an allowance for doubtful accounts, management bases its estimates on the aging of accounts receivable balances and historical write-off experience, customer creditworthiness, and changes in customer payment terms. If the financial condition of customers were to deteriorate, actual write-offs might be higher than expected.
In each tax jurisdiction in which Deutsche Telekom operates, management must make judgments for the calculation of current and deferred taxes. This is relevant, for example, when it comes to a decision on recognizing deferred tax assets because it must be probable that a taxable profit will be available against which the deductible temporary differences, loss carryforwards, and tax credits can be utilized. In addition to the estimate of future earnings, various factors are used to assess the probability of the future utilization of deferred tax assets, including past results of operations, the reliability of planning, and tax planning strategies. The period used for the assessment of the recoverability depends on the circumstances at the respective Group company and typically is in a range of five to ten years.
Pension obligations for benefits to non-civil servants are generally satisfied by defined benefit plans. Pension benefit costs for non-civil servants are determined in accordance with actuarial valuations, which rely on assumptions regarding the discount rate, the expected salary increase rate, the expected pension trend, and life expectancy. In the event that changes in the assumptions regarding these parameters are required, the future amounts of the pension benefit costs may be affected materially.
Deutsche Telekom is obligated, under the German Federal Posts and Telecommunications Agency Reorganization Act (Gesetz zur Reorganisation der Bundesanstalt für Post und Telekommunikation Deutsche Bundespost), to pay for its share of any operating cost shortfalls between the income of the Civil Service Health Insurance Fund (Postbeamtenkrankenkasse) and benefits paid. The Civil Service Health Insurance Fund provides services mainly in cases of illness, birth, or death for its members, who are civil servants employed by or retired from Deutsche Telekom AG, Deutsche Post AG, and Deutsche Postbank AG, and their relatives. When Postreform II came into effect, participation in the Civil Service Health Insurance Fund was closed to new members. The insurance premiums collected by the Civil Service Health Insurance Fund must not exceed the insurance premiums imposed by alternative private health insurance enterprises for comparable insurance benefits, and, therefore, do not reflect the changing age distribution of the participants in the fund. Deutsche Telekom recognizes provisions in the amount of the actuarially determined present value of Deutsche Telekom’s share in the fund’s future deficit, using a discount rate and making assumptions about life expectancies and projections for contributions and future increases in general health care costs in Germany. Since the calculation of these provisions involves long-term projections over periods of more than 50 years, the present value of the liability may be highly sensitive even to small variations in the underlying assumptions.
Deutsche Telekom exercises considerable judgment in measuring and recognizing provisions and contingent liabilities related to pending litigation or other outstanding claims subject to negotiated settlement, mediation, arbitration, or government regulation. Judgment is necessary in assessing the likelihood that a pending claim will succeed, or a liability will arise, and to quantify the possible range of the final settlement. Provisions are recognized for losses from executory contracts, provided a loss is considered probable and can be reasonably estimated. Because of the inherent uncertainties in this evaluation process, actual losses may be different from the originally estimated provision. In addition, significant estimates are involved in the determination of provisions related to taxes and litigation risks. These estimates are subject to change as new information becomes available, primarily with the support of internal specialists or with the support of outside consultants, such as actuaries or legal counsel. Revisions to the estimates of these losses from executory contracts may significantly affect future results of operations.
Significant judgments: revenue recognition, contract assets and liabilities/contract costs
The standalone selling prices of individual products or services that are part of multiple-element arrangements are complex to determine, because some of the elements are price-sensitive and, thus, volatile in a competitive marketplace. In many cases, standalone selling prices can also not be observed for the company’s own products. Due to the fact that comparability is generally not completely assured, the use of market prices for similar products is subject to an element of uncertainty, as is an estimate using a cost-plus-margin approach. Changes in estimates of standalone selling prices can significantly influence the allocation of the transaction price for the entire multiple-element arrangement among the individual performance obligations and therefore affect both the financial position, i.e., the carrying amount of contract assets and contract liabilities, and the current and future results of operations.
One-time payments by the customer for contracts that can be terminated at any time are recognized over an expected contract period, the length of which depends on the period over which, from a commercial perspective, the customer is expected to renew or not terminate the contract on a monthly basis.
Contract costs are deferred and generally recognized as expense over the expected duration of the customer relationship. The estimate of the expected average duration of customer retention is based on historical customer turnover. However, this is subject to fluctuations and has only limited informative value with regard to future customer behavior, particularly if new products are rolled out. If management’s estimates are revised, material differences may result in the amount and timing of expenses for subsequent periods.
The significance of material rights is an estimate that is based on both quantitative and qualitative factors. This is ultimately a matter of judgment, even though it is supported by quantitative facts. Depending on the decision as to whether or not the customer has a material right to be deferred, there may be material differences in the amount and timing of revenues for the current and subsequent periods.
Gross vs. net presentation. The assessment of whether Deutsche Telekom presents revenue gross as the principal or net after deduction of costs as the agent, i.e., only in the amount of the remaining margin, requires an analysis of both the legal form and the substance of contracts. After all of the relevant facts and circumstances of the individual case have been weighed up, in many cases the decision also involves a degree of discretion, even if a uniform Group method of assessment is applied. Depending on the conclusion reached, there may be material differences in the amounts of revenues and expenses for the current and subsequent periods. This has no bearing on profit/loss from operations, however.
Judgments: extension and termination options for the lessee
Extension and termination options are included in many lease arrangements across the Deutsche Telekom Group. Local teams are responsible for negotiating contracts and managing their individual leases. As a result, lease contracts include a wide range of different terms and conditions in order to provide local management with the flexibility needed to run their business, i.e., to give them operational flexibility in terms of managing the underlying lease assets used in their operations and to allow them to react to changing business needs.
The main population of lease contracts in the Deutsche Telekom Group comprises arrangements for cell site infrastructure, land/ground underneath the infrastructure, switch sites, office buildings, and retail stores, which are mainly located in the United States and Germany. The length of the lease term in these contracts is the main factor in measuring the lease liabilities.
The majority of cell site leases in the United States have an initial non-cancelable term of five to 15 years, with several renewal options that can extend the lease term from five to 35 years. Cell site leases in Germany, on the other hand, typically have an initial non-cancelable period of one to 15 years, during which the lease cannot be terminated. After the initial period of time, the lease extends automatically if neither party terminates the lease or if Deutsche Telekom, as lessee, exercises an extension option, which is typically for five years. Leases can be extended on up to three occasions. The majority of extension options are exercisable by the relevant business units of the Deutsche Telekom Group.
In determining the lease term, management applies judgment and considers all facts and circumstances that create an economic incentive for Deutsche Telekom to exercise an extension option, or not to exercise a termination option. Extension options (or periods after termination options) are only included in the lease term if Deutsche Telekom is reasonably certain to exercise an option to extend the lease, or not to exercise an option to terminate the lease. The threshold for a “reasonably certain” exercise is lower than “virtually certain” and higher than “more likely than not.”
In determining the duration of leases of cell site space, land/ground, switch sites, office buildings, and retail stores, which are the most relevant lease contracts in the Deutsche Telekom Group, the following are the most relevant factors that are considered:
- Rapidly advancing and ever-changing technology in the telecommunications industry requires flexible lease contracts, i.e., management tries to minimize longer periods during which the contracts cannot be canceled.
- When determining whether an extension of a lease contract is reasonably certain, in addition to any significant penalties for terminating (or not extending) the lease, business plans and the business model are considered, e.g., cost/benefit analysis, consolidation plans for the mobile network and office facilities, new mobile network standards, significance of the property for the underlying operations, replacement or usage of additional technology, as well as the availability and cost of alternative locations.
- Often leasehold improvements can be used in alternative locations. In many cases, the costs of moving or replacing the asset or initial construction costs are not the main factor considered when determining whether to extend or not to extend the lease.
- Significant investments made in a location, e.g., construction of towers and masts on the leased land, are economic penalties typically considered when determining the lease term.
After having considered all of the factors above, for cell site contracts in the United States as of the lease commencement date, Deutsche Telekom concluded that it is generally not reasonably certain that an option to extend the lease term beyond the initial non-cancelable lease term will be exercised. For cell site contracts – including the land/ground underneath the infrastructure – in Germany, a lease term of 10 to 15 years is considered reasonably certain. Extension options after that period are typically not considered reasonably certain at commencement of the lease. Payments associated with these optional periods are not included in the measurement of the lease liabilities.
Most extension options for office and shop leases are not included in the lease liability because Deutsche Telekom could replace the leased assets without significant cost or business disruption.
Exposure to future additional cash outflows will only arise when an extension option (not determined to be reasonably certain) is exercised or when a termination option (determined to be reasonably certain) is not exercised.
After the commencement date, the likelihood of exercising an option is only reassessed if a significant event or a significant change in circumstances occurs that affects this judgment, and this is within the control of the lessee. Deutsche Telekom reassesses the lease term when an option is exercised (or not exercised) or Deutsche Telekom becomes obligated to exercise or not to exercise it.
For further information on undiscounted future lease payments, please refer to Note 13 “Financial liabilities and lease liabilities.”