Thursday, June 14, 2012

Two expense profiles

At the joint meeting of the IASB & FASB yesterday (June 13), the boards came to an agreement on the expense recognition patterns for lessee leases to be presented in the Revised Exposure Draft (RED). (My thanks to Asset Finance International for their summary of the board meeting.) If you're looking at the meeting papers prepared by the staff (available here), the choice made was for Approach 3, meaning that some leases will be accounted for using current finance/capital lease accounting (recognizing interest and depreciation expense, with the effect that expenses are higher at the beginning of the lease), while others will be accounted for with a single lease expense item which is recognized straight line over the life of the lease. If the rent payments are equal over the life of the lease, the asset and liability balances will be equal at any date. If they are unequal, the adjustment required to balance cash rent vs. accrual expense (what is shown under current operating lease accounting as a deferred rent liability) will be taken to the asset. The asset will also be adjusted for any initial direct costs or impairments, both of which are to be recognized over the life of the lease (or remaining life, for an impairment).

The second decision was where to draw the line between the two types of expense recognition. The boards opted for Option 3 (as described in agenda paper 3D/237):

(a) Leases of property (defined as land or a building – or part of a building – or both) should be accounted for using a straight-line presentation in the income statement ... unless:
(i) The lease term is for the major part of the economic life of the underlying asset; or
(ii) The present value of fixed lease payments accounts for substantially all of the fair value of the underlying asset.

(b) Leases of assets other than property should be accounted for under Approach 1 [finance accounting] ... unless:
(i) The lease term is an insignificant portion of the economic life of the underlying asset;
(ii) The present value of the fixed lease payments is insignificant relative to the fair value of the underlying asset.

The boards' push for convergence was in evidence in the voting. A solid majority of the IASB preferred a single methodology for all leases, using finance lease accounting. However, members of the FASB very strongly felt that straight line expensing was a necessary part of the standard, and the IASB agreed in the interest of having a common standard.

The implications are that virtually all equipment (except leases of 12 months or less, which have previously been excluded from the standard and will be treated like current operating leases) will use finance accounting, while the vast majority of property leases will use straight line accounting. Only when a property lease is for nearly all of an asset's useful life (or there is an ownership transfer or bargain purchase option) will finance accounting be used. We'll have to see how this sorts out in practice, but this probably means that a lease of a building for less than 30 or 40 years will use straight line unless there are very special circumstances.

Lessor accounting

Having made that decision, the boards discussed the implications for lessors. Since they previously decided that lessors of "investment property" could use operating lease accounting, and this would cover virtually all property lessors, the focus was on equipment lessors. The boards decided that they would use accounting more or less symmetrical with lessee accounting, so the "receivable and residual" model will apply to equipment leases unless the lease has an "insignificant" term or receivable. This is similar to current capital lessor accounting, but with the benefit to lessors that they are permitted to recognize a portion of profit at inception (proportional to the value of the receivable compared to the residual), whereas currently profit is recognized over the life of the lease.

Next steps

There will be some wrap-up decisions to make at the July joint boards meeting, related to the RED comment period, transition, and disclosure adjustments. After that, the staff will prepare the RED, with the expectation that it will be released in Q4 2012. (If no further hitches come up, early in the quarter would seem likely.) With an expected 4-month comment period, then time to redeliberate based on comments received, a mid-year 2013 release date of the new standard seems possible, unless there's strong pushback. However, the boards seem to have met the biggest objections, so I think any changes this time around are likely to be modest (tweaks of wording, adjustments of disclosures, etc.), not the wholesale rewrite that we got between the original ED and the RED.

At this point, I wouldn't expect an effective date before 2016, to allow companies time to update their systems and gather any needed information. However, the requirement to restate prior years remains, so U.S. companies will generally need to recalculate 2014 & 2015 when they first apply the standard in 2016. If early implementation is permitted, the recalculation period would move forward commensurately. In other words, 2016 isn't that far away.


Here at Financial Computer Systems, we're finishing up the latest update of EZ13, which will be released this summer. We won't have the new level expense capital methodology in that version, but will be working on it later this year. We'll have it in place, including transitions from current accounting, long before implementation is required. We do right now provide for pro forma capitalizing operating leases according to current capitalization rules, so you can see what your balance sheet exposure is under the RED.

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