Friday, January 14, 2011

Redeliberations starting, comment letter summary

The FASB & IASB will have a joint meeting in London on Wednesday, January 19, when they will begin to discuss comments received on the Exposure Draft, and their plan for redeliberations. On Wednesday and Thursday, they will discuss 1) distinguishing leases from services, and 2) lessor accounting. They are not planning to make decisions on those topics.

The IASB meeting page for January has agenda papers for the leases discussions. These include a list of the major issues that the staffs feel should be thoroughly reconsidered, and a secondary list of additional possible issues for reconsideration. Five major issues are noted:

1) Definition of a lease (particularly differentiating from service/executory contracts)
2) Lessor accounting model
3) Lease term (i.e., when to include renewal options)
4) Variable lease payments (i.e., contingent rentals)
5) Profit & loss recognition pattern (whether asset amortization should be adjusted so that overall expense/income for leases is straight-line rather than front-loaded)

A laundry list of other items is listed as potentially needing reconsideration, including scope exclusions, short-term leases, foreign exchange, disclosure, fully retrospective application, lease incentives, and leasehold improvements, among numerous others.

The staffs' comment letter summary notes the "very high" number of responses (760 letters as of Jan. 12), and the fact that the boards have had contacts with several thousand people through various outreach activities. They note that very few financial statement users sent in comment letters, but outreach events included over 500 users.

The summary indicates that almost all comment letter writers disagreed with defining the lease term as the longest possible term more likely than not to occur. Respondents generally suggested either the current standard of including options that are "reasonably assured/reasonably certain" (current US GAAP/IFRS terminology), or "virtually certain" (seen as an even higher threshold), or the Alternative View listed in the IFRS Exposure Draft, to include options only when there are incentives to exercise those options.

The summary indicates likewise almost total disagreement with the contingent rent proposal. Alternative approaches suggested included 1) capitalizing only contingent rents based on an index or rate, 2) including only those that are outside an entity's control, or 3) using a different estimation approach (such as "best estimate" rather than "expected value" with multiple scenarios).

The summary is 70 pages long, so trying to fully recap it here would be tedious. Suffice to say that every question that the boards asked in the ED received lots of comment, with numerous alternatives presented.

Over half of the respondents were preparers of financial statements, with sizable numbers of industry organizations, individuals, and professional organizations. Half came from North America, a bit more than a quarter from Europe. The largest industries represented were financial services (almost 1/4), retail, real estate, and transportation.

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