Friday, October 29, 2010

Notes from yesterday's FASB webcast

As previously mentioned, the FASB yesterday offered a one-hour webcast reviewing the proposed new lease accounting standard, for which the Exposure Draft was released in August. The webcast is now available for viewing if you weren't able to view it live (free registration required).

The webcast included both a basic description of the new methodology proposed, and intermittent commentary by Larry Smith, a FASB board member, regarding why particular decisions were made.

On requiring capitalization of options to renew, Mr. Smith said, "The boards wanted to ensure that entities would not structure a one-year lease with additional one-year options to renew with the full intent of a 15-year lease. We wanted to ensure that the lease amounts recorded reflected the true substance of the lease and therefore reflected the likely lease term, which we acknowledge impacts many aspects due to the discounting required. "

Similarly, for contingent rents: "We were concerned with entities in an extreme example having a fixed rent payment of $1, then various contingent and other variable payments which make the monthly expense closer to a million. We wanted to lay out a principle that would capture all expected lease payments to ensure that amounts recorded associated with leases were transparent and inclusive of all lease payments expected."

Obviously the boards are haunted by the structuring that has been common in leasing under FAS 13 (and IAS 17), and are doing everything they can to prevent something like that from happening again. But Mr. Smith says they're open to alternative ways of dealing with the situation; they recognize that they've chosen a method that's complex to implement.

They included preliminary feedback: They feel generally there is agreement with the right-of-use model, but concern about the complexity of contingent rents & determining the lease term, the income statement impact (rather than equal expenses over the life of the lease, depreciation plus interest gives front-end-loaded expenses), differentiating leases from services (and separating service components), applying performance obligation vs. derecognition for lessors, cost/benefit, and doing the transition.

They took questions from viewers of the webcast and answered some. Highlights:

* The boards plan to provide more guidance on distinguishing a service from a lease (and distinct services). They recognize that it will be more significant than it is under FAS 13.
* The FASB plans to consider whether investment property should be accounted for at fair value, as IAS 40 provides (either as an option or mandatory).
* Driving the project is a desire to provide better comparability (eliminating the bright lines between capital and operating leases) and more information to users, who they feel are already attempting to calculate balance sheet impacts on operating leases with limited information.
* While the initial focus was on lessees, they recognized a need to be consistent both between lessees and lessors, and between leasing and the concurrent revenue recognition.
* Mr. Smith: "If we did not provide for including an estimate of contingent rents, leases might be structured very differently to come up with an outcome that would record the minimum asset and liability, and we didn't want to provide those structuring opportunities."
* It is recognized that lessees and lessors will come up with different estimates of lease term, contingent rent, and the like. The lessee most often will probably have better information.

The IASB is also having a webcast, this coming Monday (Nov. 1), at 10 AM and 3 PM GMT. More information is available at the IASB website.

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