Note 15
Commitments and contingencies

Contingencies – Regulatory, Compliance and Legal

Antitrust

In April 2014, the European Commission announced its decision regarding its investigation of anticompetitive practices in the cables industry and granted the Company full immunity from fines under the European Commission’s leniency program. In December 2013, the Company agreed with the Brazilian Antitrust Authority (CADE) to settle its ongoing investigation into the Company’s involvement in anticompetitive practices in the cables industry and the Company agreed to pay a fine of approximately 1.5 million Brazilian reals (equivalent to approximately $1 million on date of payment).

In Brazil, the Company’s Gas Insulated Switchgear business is under investigation by the CADE for alleged anticompetitive practices. In addition, the CADE has opened an investigation into certain other power businesses of the Company, including flexible alternating current transmission systems (FACTS) and power transformers. With respect to these matters, management is cooperating fully with the authorities. An informed judgment about the outcome of these investigations or the amount of potential loss or range of loss for the Company, if any, relating to these investigations cannot be made at this stage.

Suspect payments

As a result of an internal investigation, the Company self-reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) in the United States as well as to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in the United Kingdom concerning certain of its past dealings with Unaoil and its subsidiaries, including alleged improper payments made by these entities to third parties. The SFO has commenced an investigation into this matter. The Company is cooperating fully with the authorities. At this time, it is not possible for the Company to make an informed judgment about the outcome of these matters.

General

In addition, the Company is aware of proceedings, or the threat of proceedings, against it and others in respect of private claims by customers and other third parties with regard to certain actual or alleged anticompetitive practices. Also, the Company is subject to other various legal proceedings, investigations, and claims that have not yet been resolved. With respect to the above-mentioned regulatory matters and commercial litigation contingencies, the Company will bear the costs of the continuing investigations and any related legal proceedings.

Liabilities recognized

At December 31, 2017 and 2016, the Company had aggregate liabilities of $233 million and $150 million, respectively, included in “Other provisions” and “Other non-current liabilities”, for the above regulatory, compliance and legal contingencies, and none of the individual liabilities recognized was significant. As it is not possible to make an informed judgment on the outcome of certain matters and as it is not possible, based on information currently available to management, to estimate the maximum potential liability on other matters, there could be material adverse outcomes beyond the amounts accrued.

Guarantees

General

The following table provides quantitative data regarding the Company’s third-party guarantees. The maximum potential payments represent a “worst-case scenario”, and do not reflect management’s expected outcomes.

 

Maximum potential payments

December 31, ($ in millions)

2017

2016

Performance guarantees

1,775

193

Financial guarantees

17

69

Indemnification guarantees

72

71

Total

1,864

333

The carrying amount of liabilities recorded in the Consolidated Balance Sheets reflects the Company’s best estimate of future payments, which it may incur as part of fulfilling its guarantee obligations. In respect of the above guarantees, the carrying amounts of liabilities at December 31, 2017 and 2016, were not significant.

The Company is party to various guarantees providing financial or performance assurances to certain third parties. These guarantees, which have various maturities up to 2027, mainly consist of performance guarantees whereby (i) the Company guarantees the performance of a third party’s product or service according to the terms of a contract and (ii) as member of a consortium/joint venture that includes third parties, the Company guarantees not only its own performance but also the work of third parties. Such guarantees may include guarantees that a project will be completed within a specified time. If the third party does not fulfill the obligation, the Company will compensate the guaranteed party in cash or in kind. The original maturity dates for the majority of these performance guarantees range from one to eight years.

In conjunction with the divestment of the high-voltage cable and cables accessories businesses, the Company has entered into various performance guarantees with other parties with respect to certain liabilities of the divested business. At December 31, 2017, the maximum potential payable under these guarantees amounts to $929 million and these guarantees have various maturities ranging from one to ten years.

Commercial commitments

In addition, in the normal course of bidding for and executing certain projects, the Company has entered into standby letters of credit, bid/performance bonds and surety bonds (collectively “performance bonds”) with various financial institutions. Customers can draw on such performance bonds in the event that the Company does not fulfill its contractual obligations. The Company would then have an obligation to reimburse the financial institution for amounts paid under the performance bonds. At December 31, 2017 and 2016, the total outstanding performance bonds aggregated to $7.7 billion and $7.9 billion, respectively. There have been no significant amounts reimbursed to financial institutions under these types of arrangements in 2017, 2016 and 2015.

Product and order-related contingencies

The Company calculates its provision for product warranties based on historical claims experience and specific review of certain contracts.

The reconciliation of the “Provisions for warranties”, including guarantees of product performance, was as follows:

($ in millions)

2017

2016

2015

Balance at January 1,

1,142

1,089

1,148

Net change in warranties due to acquisitions and divestments

30

Claims paid in cash or in kind

(335)

(329)

(357)

Net increase in provision for changes in estimates, warranties issued and warranties expired

297

424

377

Exchange rate differences

97

(42)

(79)

Balance at December 31,

1,231

1,142

1,089

During 2016, the Company determined that the provision for product warranties in its solar business, acquired in 2013 as part of the purchase of Power-One, was no longer sufficient to cover expected warranty costs in the remaining warranty period. Due to higher than originally expected product failure rates for certain solar inverters designed and manufactured by Power-One, a substantial portion of which relates to products which were delivered to customers prior to the acquisition date, the previously estimated product warranty provision was increased by a total of $23 million and $151 million, during 2017 and 2016, respectively. The corresponding increases were included in “Cost of sales of products” and resulted in a decrease in diluted earnings per share of $0.01 for 2017, and a decrease in basic and diluted earnings per share of $0.06 and $0.05, respectively, for 2016. As $8 million and $131 million, in 2017 and 2016, respectively, relates to products which were sold prior to the acquisition date these costs have been excluded from the Company’s measure of segment profit, Operational EBITA (see Note 23). This warranty provision has been recorded based on the information presently available and is subject to change in the future.

Related party transactions

The Company conducts business with certain companies where members of the Company’s Board of Directors or Executive Committee act, or in recent years have acted, as directors or senior executives. The Company’s Board of Directors has determined that the Company’s business relationships with those companies do not constitute material business relationships. This determination was made in accordance with the Company’s related party transaction policy which was prepared based on the Swiss Code of Best Practice and the independence criteria set forth in the corporate governance rules of the New York Stock Exchange.