Friday, January 28, 2011

First redeliberation session

The IASB & FASB met in joint session last week. On the agenda, as previously noted, was the first round of reconsideration of the new lease accounting standard, reacting to the responses received on the Exposure Draft.

The separation of leases from service contracts is a major issue, including the question of service contracts that include physical assets. One example is a cable TV subscription; if the cable company gives you a cable box, does that make the whole transaction a lease rather than a service? Does the box need to be accounted for separately as a lease? Or should some small amount of physical assets be ignored in this situation? (How small?)

The boards also discussed whether all leases should be considered a form of financing (which merits the accounting proposed with delinked asset and obligation), or if some aren't really financing and should be recognized with a straight-line expense/income pattern.

Lessor accounting was also discussed in detail. Some respondents suggested putting off lessor accounting, but the boards agreed to keep discussing both sides of the transaction, particularly issues that are relevant to both. There is a wide range of views on whether there ought to be one or two kinds of lessor accounting, and if one, which one, though the boards seem to have considerable sympathy for the idea that there are two different business models for leasing that ought to be accommodated.

A number of respondents complained about the lack of symmetry between lessee and lessor accounting (sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander?); the boards directed the staffs to consider two approaches to accounting for both lessors and lessees, one based on the financing concept and the other using straight-line recognition. (One challenge, of course, will be how to differentiate.)

FASB Chairman Leslie Seidman held a webinar on Jan. 25, providing her views on what the board is doing. She noted that the count of comment letters on the lease accounting Exposure Draft is now over 750. She sees general agreement with the concept of placing lease obligations on the lessee balance sheet, but recognizes that many are concerned about the complexity of the current model, especially with regard to options and contingent rents. She also noted that there is "general disagreement" with the front-loaded expense pattern as it affects leases that are currently considered operating, and the classification of the expense in financing rather than operating activities. While she didn't officially back off from a June 30 due date for this and the other current projects, she noted that the boards have been stating that the target dates are subject to the nature and extent of the feedback received. Their goal is standards that are understandable and implementable at a reasonable cost, and "if it takes a little longer to reach that comfort level, we will take that time."

In the webinar's Q&A period, someone asked how the FASB decides when to re-expose a standard if changes are made from the exposure draft. She said their general question is: How significant are the changes from both the original exposure draft and from current accounting? The implication is that if their new plan is significantly different from both an ED and current GAAP, they would re-expose. It is, of course, too soon to tell whether that would happen to the lease accounting standard.

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