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.

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