Devout readers of the Calcbench blog already know how much we love the new accounting standard for leasing costs. Now we have even more for those of you who also follow this subject closely: our latest in-depth look at leasing accounting costs among the S&P 500.
The new standard went into effect at the start of this year. It requires firms to report the costs of operating leases as liabilities on the balance sheet, and also to add a corresponding right-of-use (ROU) asset on the asset side.
In theory, leasing liabilities and ROU assets should offset each other. In practice, most firms have a discrepancy one way or the other between those two items — assets greater than liabilities, or liabilities greater than assets. Our paper examines the S&P 500 to see how large those discrepancies are.
The complete paper is available for download on the Calcbench Research page. Meanwhile, we have a few key findings here.
First, most firms do have discrepancies between assets and liabilities. Among the 382 firms in the S&P 500 that reported leasing items, only 21 had leasing liabilities and ROU assets in Q1 2019 where the values were exactly equal. Most firms had liabilities larger than assets, although a small number did have assets larger than liabilities.
To be clear — the discrepancies themselves are fine. They don’t violate financial reporting rules. The new accounting standard only aims to give investors a better sense of a firm’s assets and liabilities, and discrepancies are allowed. We just found lots of firms fitting that scenario.
Second, those discrepancies do add up. Collectively, those 382 firms had $475.2 billion in assets and $495.8 billion in liabilities. That means leasing liabilities exceeded ROU assets by 4.16 percent. The median firm had $434 million in assets and $446 million in liabilities, a difference of 2.69 percent. (See Table 1, below.)
When you examine specific firms those discrepancies can become significant, in either relative or absolute dollar terms.
For example, AT&T ($T) had $20.23 billion in assets, and $21.32 billion in liabilities. That is, its leasing liabilities were more than $1 billion larger than ROU assets. Meanwhile, Wynn Resorts ($WYNN) had ROU assets of $444.1 million, but liabilities of only $158.6 million.
Our report lists the firms with the largest differences in both absolute and relative terms. The names may surprise you.
Third, this new standard can have big effects on a firm’s balance sheet. Last summer we examined firms that were carrying large leasing liabilities off the balance sheet, under the prior accounting standard. We estimated how those firms’ total liabilities would increase if you added those off-balance sheet leasing liabilities onto the balance sheet. In some cases, total liabilities would increase 300 percent or more.
Now that the new standard is here, we revisited those same firms to see how their balance sheets actually did change in Q1 2019. Most of our predictions were close; a few were larger, and a few smaller.
Regardless, this standard can have a big effect on the balance sheet. That, in turn, has an effect on financial metrics such as return on assets or debt-to-equity ratios — all due to a change in accounting rules, rather than any change to business performance. (We did a deep dive on this issue just last week, looking at Chipotle Mexican Grille ($CMG), if you’re curious.)
Financial analysts need to understand and anticipate those changes in the firms that they follow. This research report provides a sense of what’s to come, and some specific examples that demonstrate the new standard’s practical effects.
It’s a big change, this new lease accounting standard. Rest assured, Calcbench is on top of it and can give you the data you need, every step of the way.
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