Monday, January 18, 2010

A return to classification?

At the January 5 joint meeting of the FASB and IASB, the boards agreed that leases that represent the purchase (by the lessee) or sale (by the lessor) of the underlying asset should be excluded from the scope of the standard and treated as sales. The key concept to be used is that the lease includes transfer of control of the asset, such as through an ownership transfer or bargain purchase option in the lease. While the intent is to parallel the revenue recognition project in this type of transaction, the boards weren’t happy with using the definition of control the staff provided (which comes from the revenue recognition project), considering it not well suited to the characteristics of leases; they directed the staffs to work on a more appropriate definition.

Some of the FASB/IASB staff suggested that leases whose term (including any bargain renewal options) covers the entire useful life should be treated as sale/purchase transactions. This is in essence putting a 100% level on FAS 13’s 7(c) test. There was substantial discussion about this, with no conclusion reached. Some board members felt this ignored the possibility of major costs or benefits associated with an asset even if it is at the end of its useful life (decommissioning costs or scrap values, for instance). But a number of other board members seemed in favor, depending on how things were defined. This will be revisited at a future meeting.

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