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FINANCIAL REPORTING

FASB, IASB Address Offsetting Transactions, Impairment Models

 

JANUARY 31, 2011

FASB and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) took two more steps toward convergence with the release of joint proposals that address offsetting transactions and accounting for impairment of financial assets.

 

An exposure draft released on Friday proposes to establish a common approach to offsetting financial assets and financial liabilities on the statement of financial position (balance sheet). The proposal seeks to end a stark difference in reporting between IFRS and U.S. GAAP that IASB Chairman Sir David Tweedie said “is not acceptable in global capital markets.”

 

The second proposal, which was released on Monday, is a supplement to an ED on accounting for impairment of financial assets such as loans managed in an open portfolio. The proposal would replace the incurred loss model with a more forward-looking expected loss model, remedying an issue that Tweedie cited as “a major complaint in the financial crisis.”

 

In the press release announcing the offsetting proposal, Tweedie said, “The fact that companies can, in some instances, report IFRS balance sheet figures that are double the size of their U.S. GAAP numbers is not acceptable in global capital markets. … The proposals would eliminate the differences in offsetting requirements.”

 

“This proposal would change U.S. GAAP to require netting in a narrower set of circumstances, but the effect of other forms of credit mitigation would be disclosed in the footnotes,” FASB Chairman Leslie F. Seidman said in the press release.

 

Offsetting, otherwise known as netting, takes place when entities present their rights and obligations as a net amount in their statement of financial position. Currently, the circumstances when financial assets and financial liabilities may be presented in an entity’s statement of financial position as a single net amount, or as two gross amounts, differ depending on whether the entity reports in IFRS or U.S. GAAP.

 

The accounting differences result in the single largest quantitative difference in reported numbers in statements of financial position prepared in accordance with IFRS or U.S. GAAP, the proposal states. This reduces the comparability of financial statements, and is especially prominent in the presentation of derivative assets and derivative liabilities by financial institutions. The boards said users and preparers of financial statements, the G-20 and the Financial Stability Board (FSB) asked them to find a common solution for offsetting those items.

 

Under the proposal, offsetting would apply only when the right of setoff is enforceable at all times, including in default and bankruptcy, and the ability to exercise this right is unconditional—that is, it does not depend on a future event. The entities involved must intend to settle the amounts due with a single payment, or simultaneously. Provided all of these requirements are met, offsetting would be required. The proposals would amend IFRS and U.S. GAAP and eliminate several industry-specific netting practices.

 

Comments on the ED, Offsetting Financial Assets and Financial Liabilities [FASB Proposed Accounting Standards Update, Balance Sheet (Topic 210): Offsetting], are due April 28.

 

In the supplementary document on impairment of financial assets, the boards proposed moving to an expected loss model that they said provides a more forward-looking approach to how credit losses are accounted for and better reflects the economics of lending decisions. IFRS and U.S. GAAP currently account for credit losses using an incurred loss model, which requires evidence of a loss (known as a trigger event) before financial assets can be written down.

 

The proposal supplements an ED published by the IASB in November 2009, and a FASB ED published in May 2010. These EDs outlined different methods to account for credit impairment.

 

“The FASB and IASB have heard the urgent call for an improved, converged approach to impairment of debt instruments,” Seidman said. “We are keenly interested in whether investors think this revised approach provides relevant and timely information about credit losses, and whether reporting entities find the proposed requirements operational.”

 

“A major complaint in the financial crisis was that when loan losses were recognized, it was a case of ‘too little, too late,’ ” Tweedie said. “Such a situation highlighted the need for a more forward-looking approach to loan losses to ensure provisions are made much earlier than before.”

 

Comments on the supplementary document, Accounting for Financial Instruments and Revisions to the Accounting for Derivative Instruments and Hedging Activities, are due April 1.

 

The IASB is hosting an interactive webcast on the impairment of financial assets proposal on Friday, Feb. 4, with sessions scheduled for 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. EST. Click here to register. “FASB in Focus” documents offering additional overviews on each proposal will be posted on FASB’s website. FASB said it will also post a podcast about impairment soon.

 

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