Thursday, February 10, 2011

Death knell for "more likely than not"?

The IASB & FASB will be meeting next week. On the agenda on Feb. 16 meeting: the definition of the lease term. The staff briefing paper for the discussion, noting the almost universal rejection of the proposal to include lease options in the lease term if they are judged "more likely than not" to be exercised, recommends that the lease term be defined essentially the same way as it is now under both IAS 17 and FAS 13: the contractual minimum, plus options that are reasonably certain to be exercised. The staff's recommendation is that "reasonably certain" be determined solely on economic factors (such as bargain renewal options, penalties for cancellation, presence of long-lived leasehold improvements, etc.), with no weight given to past practice or management intention, which the majority of the staff considers too subjective. They do list that as an option for the boards, though, along with keeping the "more likely than not" criterion.

Given the vehement rejection of "more likely than not" in the comment letters and other outreach activities, this was, I think, expected by most observers. But assuming it comes through, it'll be a very clear indication of the significance of participating in the boards' due process.

Also on the agenda for the boards' meetings next week is variable (contingent) lease payments.

The majority staff position is that only contingent rents dependent on an index or rate should be included in the lessee's liability to make payments, with the valuation based on the prevailing (spot) rate. A minority would add all payments that are "probable" or "reasonably certain." Additional disclosures would be required, but those won't be discussed at this meeting.

This is again a pretty thorough repudiation of the Exposure Draft, which called for probability-weighted estimates of all contingent rents, including those based on usage and percentage of sales. Combined with the original proposal to include "more likely than not" options, it raised the potential of needing to estimate business and economic conditions for 50 years, an exercise that was unlikely to bear any significant connection to reality.

With these two changes, the complexity in the ED is greatly reduced. There is still the inherent complexity of capitalizing the leases, but that's far less challenging to deal with.

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