Thursday, August 27, 2009

Upcoming Leases Working Group meeting

When the FASB & IASB decided to revise the lease accounting standard back in 2006, they called for members of academia, public accounting, and the world of publicly held companies to volunteer to serve on an advisory panel, called the Leases Working Group. A first meeting was held in January 2007 to discuss the various issues surrounding lease accounting, and get the group's input on possible approaches to deal with the problems.

Then the boards seemed to forget the group existed. It has been over 2-1/2 years since the group met. Finally, on September 3, a second meeting of the Leases Working Group will be held in London. It's planned as an all-day event. Unlike IASB board meetings, this meeting will apparently not be available for live online listening; however, they have promised that audio will be available at a later time. Anyone who wants to attend the meetings live may do so, but needs to register in advance on the IASB website.

Agenda papers for the meeting are also available at the IASB website. They indicate that the issues to be discussed are largely issues that were not covered by the Preliminary Views discussion paper, though there will be a brief review of the 295 comment letters received. Instead, the topics to be discussed are mostly matters that the boards have discussed in their May, June, and July meetings: impairment, revaluation, initial direct costs, sale & leaseback transactions, transition, and lessor accounting, plus in-substance purchases, which some members feel should be accounted for differently than other leases. That has been mentioned at prior meetings, but there has been no in-depth discussion on the topic. Many of the topics for review are ones where the two boards have taken different positions; a number of comment letters urged the boards to come to an agreement on these topics (many respondents felt a unified standard was more important than which position was taken). More detailed information on the topics is available at the IASB's web site, among the agenda papers for prior board meetings (the appropriate papers are noted on p. 3 of the working group's agenda paper #1).

The working group will have to move at a fast pace; less than half an hour per issue has been allotted for the lessee topics, plus 90 minutes for lessor accounting and 45 minutes for in-substance purchases.

The boards plan to discuss the comment letters at meetings in September, and lessor accounting at October meetings. At this point, the schedule for the leases project still indicates an exposure draft in the second half of 2010, and a final standard in the first half of 2011. Whether the boards will stick with that after the September and October meetings, in the face of substantial public pressure for a simultaneous release of new lessee and lessor standards and a large amount of work to do on both sides of the transaction, remains to be seen.