Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Corporate accountants quietly panicking about the new standard to account for operating leases can breathe a bit easier, although financial analysts curious to dig into those same numbers might need to work a bit harder next year.

The new standard, going into effect at the end of this year, requires companies to state the cost of operating leases on the balance sheet; until now, those costs have been tucked away in the footnotes. Since those lease costs can sometimes be quite large — multiples larger than other liabilities on a company’s balance sheet — the new standard could have a dramatic effect on some retailers, fast food joints, and other businesses. For an overview of impact, have a look at our report “Operating Leases: What Lies Beneath”

The Financial Accounting Standards Board, however, just issued an update saying that when companies do start reporting under the new standard, they will not need to revise prior years’ financial data to follow the new standard. Only leasing costs that exist as of Dec. 15, 2018 (the day the new standard goes into effect) will need to meet the new criteria.

That will be a relief to corporate finance departments, because most of them have barely begun to prepare for the new standard. According to one survey from PwC and CBRE late last year, up to 75 percent of companies are either still assessing the standard’s possible effect, or haven’t begun assessing at all. That’s not good.

On the other hand, financial analysts crave comparability of financial data — and that’s what we won’t have here, because 2018 numbers on the balance sheet will be reported according to a standard different from 2017 and 2016.

Calcbench subscribers will still be able to find all leasing data, of course. Even under the current standard, we track that hard-to-find leasing data in our Multi-Company and Interactive Disclosure pages. You will always be able to find those numbers within a few keystrokes.

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