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 exchange transactions is based on management’s judgment as to whether an exchange 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, and intangible 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 indicate an impairment exists. The identification of impairment indicators, as well as the estimation of future cash flows and the determination of fair values for assets (or groups of assets) require management to make significant judgments concerning the identification and validation of impairment indicators, expected cash flows, applicable discount rates, useful lives, and residual values. 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 does not materialize as expected, this would result in less revenue, less cash flow, and potential impairment. When determining the fair values, additional planning uncertainties are factored in that reflect the risks of macroeconomic development, which 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 measurements on the basis of discounted cash flows are founded on projections that are based on financial plans that have been approved by management and are also used for internal purposes. The planning horizon selected 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 is only 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 the rights of spectrum use. Cash flows beyond the internal mid-term planning are extrapolated using appropriate growth rates. 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 to include 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. Any future changes in the aforementioned assumptions could have a significant impact on the fair values of the cash-generating units.
Management maintains an allowance for doubtful accounts to account for estimated losses resulting from the inability of customers to make required payments. 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.
When available-for-sale financial assets are being tested for impairment, the overall circumstances of the individual case are always taken into account. In addition to the factors specific to the issuer, the market environment and the macroeconomic and legal conditions are considered. Where listed companies are involved, the extent and permanency of price declines and the price volatility are also especially relevant.
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 the recognition of 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. In view of the U.S. tax reform adopted just before the reporting date December 31, 2017, there are still estimation uncertainties with regard to the specific future tax effects of the measures taken, which could still be affected, for example, by potential clarifications of specific aspects by the U.S. tax authorities.
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 recog-nizes 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, if available, 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.
Customer activation fees that are not part of a multiple-element arrangement are deferred and recognized as revenue over the estimated average period of customer retention. The estimation of the expected average duration of the relationship is based on historical customer turnover. If management’s estimates are revised, material differences may result in the amount and timing of revenue for any period.
The fair values of individual products or services that are part of multi-element arrangements are complex to determine, because some of the elements are price-sensitive and, thus, volatile in a competitive market-place. Revisions to the estimates of these relative fair values may signifi-cantly affect the allocation of total arrangement consideration among the different units of accounting, affecting future results of operations.