NORWALK, CT—Companies have been waiting, for years now, for the US Financial Accounting and Standards Board and the International Accounting Standards Board to complete their long-standing plan to revamp lease accounting standards. The two standard-setters have been meeting this week at FASB’s headquarters here and it appears the industry may well be waiting even longer.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, outside of the uncertainty and planning issues: there is much disagreement about whether the proposed fix to the standard-make that the latest proposed fix-would address the concerns investors have about the current standard, which is that large, off-the-books lease obligations can hide a company’s financial liabilities. Indeed, there is a growing chorus that maintains the current standard is working just fine and just needs a few tweaks.
First, though, a brief summary of events of the past two days: This week the two boards had hoped to come to an agreement on a few key issues that had yet to be resolved. One main area of contention-which is still unresolved-is the question of whether there should be a single approach to recognize leases, or a duel-recognition approach, depending on the type of lease.
FASB Chairman Russell Golden explained last year why the standard-setters began having a problem with the compromise that the two had tentatively forged. With a dual approach, the leases would qualify as either Type A or Type B. The latter are most likely to be used by real estate companies, as it would allow for a straight-line expensing method with the asset returned to the owner at the end of the term. Golden told the Wall Street Journal in November 2013 that the difficulty with this two-type approach is that there is too much discretion left to managers in deciding which type the lease is.
Fast forward five months: The boards are no closer to a resolution. On Wednesday they issued a joint statement acknowledging they were at a stalemate on this key issue but that they would continue to work together. Another unresolved issue, albeit one that doesn’t concern the commercial real estate industry so much, is the question of how to treat leases for small-ticket items such as office equipment.
That said, they did reach some definitive conclusions.
They agreed, or rather continued to agree, that corporate lessees must report all lease transactions on balance sheets rather than in the footnotes of their financial statements. They also agreed on how and when to account for options to extend or to terminate a lease.