Monday, June 15, 2009

Proposed changes to lessor accounting

The FASB and IASB met separately on May 18 & May 20 (respectively) to discuss changes to lessor accounting consistent with the move to a right-to-use model for lease accounting. As previously discussed, the boards had decided to delay lessor accounting changes and move ahead with lessee accounting only, because they felt that the need for changes was more urgent for lessee accounting and lessor accounting had complexities that would slow the whole process down.

Now they're getting started with looking at lessor accounting directly, in part perhaps because they realized that sublease accounting is inevitably affected by lessee accounting, and sublease and lessor accounting are inextricably linked.

The boards dealt with a fundamental question in their approach to lessor accounting: Does a lease result in a transfer of a portion of the leased item from lessor to lessee, or does it create a new right and obligation for the lessor? Or as the staff puts it in their discussion paper, "What is the credit?" (Additional examples, with sample journal entries, are in a second discussion paper.) The debit in the transaction is clearly the creation of a receivable representing the discounted flow of rents. Should the credit be recognized as a reduction in the value of the asset on the lessor's books (a derecognition of part of the asset), or should the asset remain untouched and a separate performance obligation created to reflect the requirement to allow the lessee to use the asset?

The FASB staff, which wrote up the discussion paper, favored the first approach (Approach A), derecognizing a portion of the lessor's asset and keeping only the net on the lessor's books. However, the boards decided instead to recognize a performance obligation. The discussion at the IASB (available by webcast until August 19) raised a number of concerns with Approach A, one of the most compelling apparently being that it would result in a steadily diminishing asset on the books which could eventually go negative (if a building that is mostly depreciated, or land recorded at historical cost, is leased based on current market value). A separate but related issue was whether profit should be recognized at the inception of the lease. This is currently permitted for manufacturers and dealers under sales-type leases, but not for direct financing leases. A number of board members did not want to permit recognition of profit at inception, and Approach A was seen as facilitating or even demanding profit recognition. The FASB also preferred Approach B, with members stating their position in favor of no immediate profit recognition and keeping the full asset on the lessor's books as long as the lessor retains title. (A concern raised and not resolved by both boards was whether treatment should be different if the lease transfers ownership at the end of the lease term, so that no interest in the asset remains with the lessor.)

The boards remain concerned about opportunities for structuring transactions to avoid the regulations, and are trying to craft the new regulations to reduce the potential for structuring, ensuring that legal forms don't facilitate treating differently transactions of similar economic substance.

Next steps:

In meetings scheduled for July, the boards will discuss initial and subsequent measurement and presentation of the asset and liability, as well as how to recognize contingent rents and options. (The second discussion paper for the May meetings made assumptions for measurement, but these have not been decided on by the boards.) Additional items for discussion, not necessarily at the July meeting, include how to differentiate a sale of an asset from a lease, and whether the right-to-use model should apply to short-term and immaterial leases. Following that meeting, the boards will decide whether they have made enough progress on lessor accounting to include it in the Exposure Draft scheduled for mid-2010, or if the ED should remain lessee-only.

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