Tuesday, January 31, 2012

EZ13 and Asset Retirement Obligations (ARO)

We are delighted to announce the release of a new module for our EZ13 Lease Accounting software. The new module tracks Asset Retirement Obligations. While primarily intended to be used for AROs tied to leases, it can also be used for AROs independently.

Asset Retirement Obligations are legal obligations of a company that take effect at the retirement of an asset. Most commonly, they are involved with restoring the asset to its original (pre-use) condition. One common example is cleanup of a drilling site by an oil/gas driller. Another applies to gas stations, which are required to dig up their underground fuel tanks when the station closes (or when the tank reaches the end of its useful life).

Under FAS 143, now called ASC Topic 410-20, a company must estimate the cost of the asset's retirement, most commonly by determining the current cost and applying an inflation factor to get the future cost. (Even if you expect to take care of the work using internal resources, the ARO must be priced based on hiring the work to be done; if you end up actually using internal resources, you will book a gain at that time.) It then books the present value of that cost (using its "credit-adjusted risk-free rate" for borrowing); the asset is called the Asset Retirement Cost, while the liability is the Asset Retirement Obligation. The ARC is depreciated over the remaining life of the asset, while the ARO is accreted over the same life; that is, an interest-type calculation is made on the liability using the same credit-adjusted risk-free rate, and the accretion expense is added to the liability, so that at the end of the asset's life, the ARO is equal to the expected (after-inflation) cost of retirement.

If you have a lease, the ARO's life is normally the same as the lease life. For an owned asset, the ARO life is typically the useful life of the asset itself.

EZ13 now offers complete ARO accounting as an extra-cost module. Reporting available includes showing ARO information on the income statement/balance sheet detail report, ARO accretion/depreciation tables, and rollforward reports (showing beginning balance, additions, accretion/depreciation, terminations, and ending balance, by lease). ARO components with varying levels of probability are accepted. For more details, including an example of an ARO calculation, please see our ARO page.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

LWG favors level expense

Asset Finance International, a European website focused on equipment lessors, is reporting that yesterday's Leases Working Group meeting produced a strong consensus in favor of providing a level expense profile for most leases, as is currently the case for operating leases. While one of the arguments of IASB and FASB board members against this has been that it would mean a different depreciation methodology from owned property, plant, & equipment (PPE), one working group member turned that argument on its head, arguing that this profile would be more appropriate for both leases and owned assets. Obviously, rewriting depreciation rules for owned PPE is out of topic bounds, but changing the rules for leases could be a first step to "start getting it right."

As mentioned in my previous post, the staff presented five alternatives for lease expense profiles. Most LWG members preferred "interest based amortization," which basically subtracts the normally calculated interest expense from what level total expense for that period would be (total expense is generally equal to all rent paid over the life of the lease, which is then equally apportioned over the lease life). For a lease with a single rent step, this would mean that the depreciation per rent payment period would be essentially the same as the principal paid, so asset and liability would be equal throughout the life of the lease. If a lease has multiple rent steps, the difference between asset and liability would be the same as the deferred rent liability currently recognized on leveled operating leases. (The staff document only talks about a simple lease with one rent step; I'm not aware of anyone else pointing out this congruence with current operating lease accounting for multiple rent steps.)

Level expense recognition would not be applied to all leases. The LWG favored defining the dividing line between that and current finance/capital lease expense recognition more or less at the same point that current operating and capital leases are divided: a transfer of control or the lessee's control of "substantially all the remaining benefits" of the leased asset. The wording would be made as consistent as possible with another draft accounting standard on Revenue Recognition.

Level expense recognition would make transition to the new system easier. If all current operating leases are assumed to qualify, there would be no hit either to the income statement or to equity. However, the transition rules would need to be rewritten to specify how the balance sheet should be set up.

The next joint boards meeting is at the end of February, at which the expense profile will be on the agenda. Asset Finance International thinks that the new exposure draft can't come out before May even if the boards don't change the expense profile. If they do, it would likely take a few more months as they review the consequential changes to other parts of the standard. Add a four-month comment period and then time for the boards to redeliberate, and it's likely to be Q4 2012 or even 2013 before the final standard is finally released.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Leases Working Group meeting on expense profile

As previously noted, the FASB & IASB are reviewing whether a different expense profile would be appropriate for capitalized leases under the new proposed lease accounting standard. The current plan is for the same profile as for existing capital leases, which has more expense in the early months/years of a lease than at the end, because interest is recognized on the remaining principal balance, which declines over the life of the lease, while depreciation is normally recognized straight-line.

There is no joint FASB/IASB board meeting this month. However, tomorrow (Jan. 24) the Leases Working Group will meet with members of the boards. The LWG is a group of individuals from business, academia, and accounting firms who have an interest/specialty in lease accounting, who meet occasionally to provide feedback to the boards. Tomorrow's meeting will be primarily focused on the issue of the expense profile on lessee leases. Meeting papers are available here.

The boards' staffs have identified five alternatives for expense recognition:

(A) current approach
(B) modified interest-based amortization for the ROU (right of use) asset
(C) modified whole-asset
(D) use "other comprehensive income" to level the expense recognition
(E) allow current operating lease accounting for more leases

A brief description of each:

(A) As with current capital leases, interest expense is recognized on the outstanding liability (the "interest method") and depreciation is normally straight-line (officially, "reflecting the pattern of consumption of expected future economic benefits from use of the leased asset")

(B) Interest expense is the same; amortization is such that the interest plus amortization is equal for each reporting period. (For a lease with equal rent paid over its life, amortization each period would be equal to the reduction in principal.)

(C) Interest expense is the same; amortization is calculated by determining the net asset. The initial net asset is the fair value of the leased asset minus the present value of the expected residual value. The asset is depreciated and the residual value accreted over the life of the lease so that at expiration the two are equal.

(D) Interest and amortization are calculated like (A). Then the difference between that and the straight-line value is recognized in OCI (over the life of the lease, the OCI activity will net to zero).

(E) Current straight-line operating lease accounting would be used, with no ROU asset or lease liability recognized (though there would be a potential asset/liability for prepaid/accrued rent).

In addition to the question of whether any of the alternatives to (A) is preferable, there is the question of whether they should apply to all leases, or just a subset; if the latter, how should the target set be identified?

The working papers identify advantages and disadvantages to each approach, and show examples for simple equipment and land leases. (Some of them get much trickier to calculate with leases that have scheduled changes to the rent; no such examples are provided.)

The LWG will also discuss issues of investment property for lessors.

The boards will have their next joint meeting Feb. 27-29, and will presumably review these topics at that time.