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Revenue Standard: Some Companies Are Chill
Thursday, November 2, 2017

For all the concern over the impending new standard for revenue recognition, at least a few companies remain unfazed as the implementation deadline draws near. Take the words of Southern Co., which filed its latest 10-Q ($6.2 billion revenue; $1.07 billion net income) on the morning of Nov. 1.

In the footnotes, Southern Co. blandly tells investors, “While the registrants expect most of their revenue to be included in the scope of [the new standard], they have not fully completed the evaluation of all revenue arrangements.”

That said, Southern Co. seems chill about the new standard (formally known as ASC 606) because it doesn’t expect the standard to have a material effect on the company’s revenue patterns. Southern works in the energy generation business, and its “power purchase agreements” (PPAs) tend to be rather routine affairs from an accounting perspective.

“The majority of Southern Power’s revenues includes longer-term PPAs for generation capacity and energy. The registrants expect the adoption of ASC 606 will not result in a significant shift from the current timing of revenue recognition for such transactions.”

And that’s that.

Southern did shed the usual light on other key questions about new accounting standards: when it will adopt, and what adoption method it will use. ASC 606 goes into effect for all reporting periods on or after Dec. 15, 2017, and since Southern Co. is a calendar year-end company, that means it must adopt ASC 606 with its fourth-quarter report filed sometime after Jan. 1, 2018.

Sure enough, Southern Co. said it will implement the new standard after Jan. 1 using the “modified retrospective” approach. That method allows a company to make a one-time adjustment to retained earnings, to reflect how the standard would change prior years’ statements— and it’s a fair bit more simple than the “full retrospective” approach, where the company restates all three years of presented financial results under the standard. (Look at Microsoft as a counter-example, where it did use the full retrospective approach and experienced a material change.)

And, again, Southern Co. blandly tells investors that ASC 606 probably won’t be a big deal:

“While the adoption of ASC 606, including the cumulative-effect adjustment, is not expected to have a material impact on either the timing or amount of revenues recognized in the registrants’ financial statements, the registrants will continue to evaluate the requirements, as well as any additional clarifying guidance that may be issued.”

Financial analysts are increasingly aware that ASC 606 can be a significant issue for many companies, and for business generally. But for plenty of firms with stable business models and revenue structures, ASC 606 won’t be a life-changing event. Southern Co. is an example of what that looks like.

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