Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lease accounting standard delayed

The FASB & IASB have decided that they cannot complete the new lease accounting standard (as well as standards on revenue recognition and financial instruments) by their target of June 30, 2011. Instead, they will continue to work on the standard into the second half of 2011. The FASB Current Technical Plan page suggests a Q3 final standard, but notes that they expect to release a new Exposure Draft, because of the magnitude of changes from the original Exposure Draft released in August 2010. The boards have not officially committed to re-expose, but if they do not, they will do an enhanced public review, making a draft standard available for review, with outreach to interested parties.

Other decisions made this month:

Contingent (variable) payments: The boards stepped back further from their widely criticized ED proposal to capitalize contingent rents. Now the only contingent rents that are to be included are 1) those dependent on an index or rate, and 2) those that are "in-substance fixed lease payments but are structured as variable lease payments in form." This is essentially an anti-abuse provision; it is unlikely that any normal lease would be affected by this. The boards haven't yet decided whether contingent rents based on an index or rate need to be reassessed when the reference number changes; that will be decided at a future meeting. If they decide not to reassess, it would mean a complete reversion to the current standard.

Definition of a lease: There has been substantial discussion over the requirement for a "specified asset." This month's deliberations concluded that a physically distinct portion of a larger asset (like a floor of a building) qualifies, but a capacity portion (like partial usage of a pipeline) does not. The asset can be explicitly or implicitly identifiable.

Other-than-finance leases: Operating leases are back as a category, with the primary difference being that they will now be on the balance sheet. But on a divided vote (with 7 IASB members opposed, plus 1 FASB member), the boards decided to have two accounting approaches for lessees, with the distinction being basically the same as IAS 17 (the IFRS leasing standard, which is similar to FAS 13 but doesn't use the 75% and 90% "bright lines" to differentiate between operating and capital leases). They're using the awkward term "other-than-finance," presumably because they want to differentiate it from current operating lease accounting, which doesn't hit the balance sheet. Maybe somebody will come up with a better name before the standard is released. Such leases will have their expenses recognized as rent expense in the operating section of the income statement, rather than as a financing activity. The liability will still be amortized using the interest method, but the asset will be amortized so as to keep the combined periodic expense level over the life of the lease.

There will similarly be two accounting approaches for lessors, but the boards reached no conclusions on application.