When I teach accounting to students with no prior accounting knowledge, I usually cover some of the regulatory framework around financial reporting. One commonly adopted set of regulations are the International Financial Reporting Standards, or IFRS.
One question often posed to me in class is what countries use IFRS? The quickest answer is lots of countries, and I often mention the big economies that don’t require the use of IFRS for public companies- the US, India and China. Recently then IFRS organisation has created an interactive map showing which countries use IFRS. The link is here, and its a very useful resource.
So, I was looking through Google News search to find something to quickly write for this post.
I found this article about the differences between IFRS and GAAP. I don't know much about the website, but the article has two incorrect statements. First IFRS does classify assets as current and non-current. Second, the term GAAP is more widely used that just referring to US rules. So, we could say UK GAAP or German GAAP.
Okay, so it's not fake news, but it's incorrect 🙂
As you are probably aware, the United Kingdom (UK) is leaving the European Union. This will have many effects on business, and in Ireland we are likely to experience the effect quite early on due to our close business ties.
Will any effects on business be revealed in the accounts of Irish (or other) businesses? The simple answer is yes, as if a company has close business ties with the UK then there is very likely to be a contingent liability or provision in the accounts. IAS 37 defines a contingent liability as:
- a possible obligation depending on whether some uncertain future event occurs, or
- a present obligation but payment is not probable or the amount cannot be measured reliably
As noted in an article in The Sunday Business Post, the outcome of Brexit is as of now uncertain, and looking at the definition of a contingent liability above, it would seem the financial statements of companies may have contingent liabilities (or even contingent assets) disclosed for some years to come. Only time will tell.
My colleague Michael Farrell has written a nice post explaining the dodgy accounting transactions at Anglo Irish Bank – the bank that was a big part of the Irish financial crisis in recent years.
Former executives from Anglo Irish Bank (“Anglo”) and Irish Life and Permanent (“ILP”) are alleged to have conspired to mislead investors by setting up a €7.2bn circular transaction scheme to bolster Anglo’s balance sheet in 2008.
The simplified debits and credits (from Anglo’s perspective) for the “circular transaction” as it’s being called are as follows:
1) Amount put on deposit with Anglo by ILP:
Dr Cash €7.2bn
Cr Customer Deposits €7.2bn (shown as a liability)
2) Amount “lent” to ILP by Anglo:
Dr Loans and Advances to Banks €7.2bn (shown as an asset)
Cr Cash €7.2bn
Per the above, the transaction is cash neutral, so what’s the big deal? The issue is that the €7.2bn recorded as a customer deposit with the bank would be (and was) incorrectly interpreted by the bank’s wider stakeholders as a measure of customer confidence in the bank.
So where do the accounting rules stand on…
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The question of accounting for spare parts for assets (i.e. plant and equipment) is one which needs some judgement on the part of an accountant. Before outlining some options, let me describe one experience I had. I worked for a global paper company in the past and the policy to deal with such spares was as follows:
- spares bought with machinery were capitalised as items of plant/equipment and depreciated with the asset
- all spares bought at other times were treated as inventory.
Then, the company merged with another and they had a different policy in that only spares valued over $1000 per unit were inventory, all others were expense. I can recall the month this policy changed, the accounts had a few hundred thousand dollars extra expenses as the lower value inventory items were written off to the income statement.
In IFRS terms, there may be two standards at play, IAS 2 on inventories and IAS 16 on Plant, Property & Equipment. So how is it decided whether a spare part is inventory or treated as an item of PPE? The general consensus, although not specifically stated in any IFRS, is to treat higher value items as an asset and lower value items as inventories. If an asset, then the question arises if the spare should be depreciated. There is a good logical argument that a spare should not be depreciated until it is put in use, so it remains on the books at cost value with adjustment for any impairment. Whatever is chosen, the accounting policy probably should disclosed if the value of spares is material – and in large manufacturing concerns it can be.
Just to complicate things further, from my experience, maintenance staff may still want to have an inventory of some low value, but critical spares even if expensed. I have seen SAP being used to track the quantity of spares held, but with no value attached (as they have been expensed). A good example might be a control panel for a machine. It may be for example a small touch screen worth $300, and expensed in the accounts. But the machine cannot work without it, so it is good to know if a spare is in stock and where it is – the latter being important when perhaps another plant in the group has a spare on hand.
Finally, here is a nice tutorial on accounting for spares.
As I have written in a previous post, when error are discovered in financial statements, these errors should be corrected at the next available opportunity. This can mean re-stating published accounts. What to do is governed by IAS 8 — Accounting Policies, Changes in Accounting Estimates and Errors.
Finding examples of errors in published accounts for example or teaching purposes is not always that easy. In March 2014, Bloomberg reported an error in the financial statements of SolarCity, a large US solar energy company. The company made an error in how overhead costs were allocated between cost of sales and other expenses it seems. While overall profits/costs were not affected, the cost of sales figure increased by about $20m per annum for 2012 and 2013. You can read the full article here.
In my previous post, I introduced assets. Now let’s see how assets are classified in accounting.
There are two major asset classifications 1) non-current and current, 2) tangible and intangible. Let’s have a brief look at each.
Non-current versus current assets
A non-current assets is one which typically cannot be converted into cash within one year. The classic example of a non-current asset is plant, property and equipment. Current assets normally convert into cash within one year e.g. receivables from customers, inventories. This non-current and current classification is used in the financial statements of most organisations.
Tangible versus intangible assets
This one is a little more tricky to understand, and it is something not normally seen on financial statements. As you might guess, a tangible asset is one which you can see and touch i.e it physically exists. Typically examples are again, plant, property and equipment, but also inventories are a tangible asset. Money due from customers is also arguably a tangible asset, as it does exist as money albeit somewhere outside the business. Intangible assets are those which do not physically exist, but yet have a value. This value may arise from intellectual or legal rights. For example, trademarks, patents, in-house software or knowledge built up through research and development are intangible assets. The accounting standard which governs intangible assets is IAS 38, and it gives some examples:
- computer software
- motion picture films
- customer lists
- mortgage servicing rights
- import quotas
- customer and supplier relationships
- marketing rights.
As you may know, non-listed UK and Irish companies are not subject to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Instead, local standards are applied to financial reporting in such entities. Recently, the FRC in the UK has issues FRS102, which is applicable to all non-listed UK/Irish companies from January 1st 2015. This standard replaces all previous local accounting standards.
Financial reporting is not my speciality, so if you want to read more about FRS 102, Prof Robert Kirk has authored an excellent reference guide for CPA Ireland. You can find the guide at this link: A new era for Irish & UK GAAP – A quick reference guide to FRS102 – CPA Ireland and a hard copy of the book is also available to purchase here.
I read an article from the Guardian website last January, where a Bank of England official was suggesting that banks need to have separate accounting standards from other types of business. Some of the concerns mentioned were around the notion of fair value. This an extremely complex area, but I’ll try to summarise it here.
The basic idea of fair value is that certain types of assets and liabilities should be measured in the financial statements at a value which reflects what they could be sold for or settled for. In the main, the types of assets/liabilities concerned are referred to as financial instruments – e.g. debt, equities. There are two complex accounting standards which deal with how such instruments are measured according to fair value. IFRS 9 defines the what happens to the difference arising on fair value adjustment. Without going into too much detail, the fair value adjustment goes through the income statement/profit & loss account. As mentioned in the Guardian article, this is normally fine when markets are causing the value of the assets to increase, but it perhaps less popular when markets are falling. And, of course there is the problem of ascertaining what exactly is “fair value”. IFRS13 defines fair value as “the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date”. It also describes a hierarchy of how to measure fair value and outlines detailed disclosures which must be made in the financial statements. Of course, all this presupposes there is a reasonable way to ascertain fair value based on a market price or equivalent market price. And, as we know from recent years, there have been plenty of media reports about the complex nature of some financial instruments. I’m sure the debate on whether or not fair value is right for the banking sector will continue.
International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) were adopted by the European Union in 2005 for all public listed companies. The standards cover a range of topics in financial statement preparation, from relatively simple issues such as Non-Current Assets to complex issues such as pension funds (see www.ifrs.org for a summary of all standards). However, the standards can also be used for the preparation of accounts of other entities. The use varies by country (EU and globally), so here is a very useful map prepared by PWC. Simply click on a country to see how the IFRS are used.
CIMA’s Insight e-zine from November 2010 (here) reports on a recent ISO standard which give guidelines on attributing a monetary value to brands. Under international accounting standards (IFRS3 in particular) brands are normally only valued when acquired as part of a new business (i.e. only when bought). According the CIMA piece, the new ISO standard suggests three well-known methods for valuing brands:
- Income approach: the objective of the income approach is to calculate the after-tax, present value of future cash flows attributable to the brand. These cash flows are the difference between the cash flows generated by the business with and without the brand. The standard outlines six key ways of doing this: the price premium, volume premium, income split, multi period excess earnings, incremental cash flow and royalty relief methods.
- Market approach: this methodology compares the brand with comparable transactions, looking at acquisition ratios that can be adjusted to consider the similarity of brand strength, goods and services or economic and legal situation.
- Cost approach: the cost approach calculates the amount invested in creating the brand and the cost of recreating it.
International Accounting Standard 10 (IAS10) requires companies to make what is termed a prior year adjustment to its financial statements on a number of grounds. One reason is the discovery of an error of a material nature. Here’s a recent example from TUI Travel, one of Europe’s biggest travel operators. The (London) Independent reported on Oct 22, 2010 how TUI has to write off £117m (above 20% of its current year profits) as a result of errors in pricing systems.
TUI’s website reports the following adjustments:
- A reduction of underlying operating profit for the year ended 30 September 2009 of £42m from £443m to £401m, all of which relates to TUI UK.
- A reduction in opening reserves at 1 October 2008 of £70m, from £2,286m to £2,216m.
- As a result of the two adjustments above the separately disclosed items of £29m announced in the Q3 results will no longer be required.
- A reduction in the underlying earnings per share for the year ended 30 September 2009 of 2.8p from 23.8p to 21.0p.
This is a good example of IAS10 at work.
The IASB and the FASB (respective International and US accounting standard setters) have recently published proposals (see here) to change the way leases are reporting in financial statements, i.e. the income statement and balance sheet. A lease is a contract for the use of an asset, and in accounting terms a lease can be either an operating lease or a finance lease. Without going into detail, a finance lease is capitalised in the balance sheet, meaning the asset subject to the lease is included as a business asset, with a corresponding liability for the amount owed to the lease company or bank. An operating lease on the other hand does not appear on the balance sheet, with any lease payments going through the income statement as an expense. The new proposals are suggesting that all leases must be accounted for as assets of a business, with a liability shown for the amounts owed on the lease. The argument from the standard setters is that a balance would show the true future liabilities of the business. How would this affect a business? Well, it might not affect the business at all if it had no operating leases, but some firms use operating leases quite a lot. If these leases suddenly were capitalised to the balance sheet, an immediate increase in long-term debt occurs. This might put businesses beyond the capacity to raise more debt. Airlines typically lease aircraft, which are normally treated as an operating lease. For example, Aer Lingus (an Irish airline) has about a €50m operating lease charge on their balance sheet annually. Let’s assume this is a 10 year lease, so if this were to be capitalised to the balance sheet, an increase in debt of €500m happens overnight. On a smaller scale, many retailers in capital cities might have expensive 21 year leases on prime retailer sites. Putting these leases on the balance sheet might cripple the borrowing capacity of smaller companies. It looks like a debate on this proposal will be quite heated.
Construction type companies are subject to a special accounting standard called IAS 11 (see http://www.ifrs.org). This standard specifies how construction companies deal with revenues and costs associated with contracts in their published accounts. What’s the problem you might ask? Why a special standard? The problem is that construction or similar contracts often span multiple accounting periods. If too much revenue is recorded early, profits might be inflated incorrectly. And, if costs are recorded too early, profits might look much lower than they should be. So, IAS 11 says what is allowed and not allowed. In a nutshell, losses must be included in accounts immediately; profits should be reported only when certain and in proportion to the completion of a contract. A recent news article in the Telegraph highlights one UK company (Connaught Group) that may be incorrectly applying the standard – you can read it here – to long term social housing maintenance contracts.
In fact, IAS 11 applies two basic accounting concepts. First is applies the prudence concept, as losses are to be recognised straight away and profits only when reliable estimates are possible. It also applies the accruals concept, which means that revenues and costs should be matched against each other as evenly as possible over time.