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.

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