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FASB Backs Off Again on Controversial Rule Proposals

Tammy Whitehouse | November 11, 2010

Yet another controversial accounting proposal is moving off the charts for the 2010 reporting year after the Financial Accounting Standards Board determined it needs more time to work on new rules around multiemployer pension plans. On a related note, the board also determined it will hold off on any further rulemaking around loss contingency disclosures to see first whether companies improve their disclosures under existing rules.

The FASB published a proposed accounting standards update calling for more disclosure about a company’s participation in and risks related to multiemployer pension plans, like union plans, with an eye toward making it effective for fiscal years ending after Dec. 15, 2010, for public companies. However, the exposure draft was issued in September with a 60-day comment period, giving the board little time to deliberate any possible changes and finalize the standard.

A member of FASB’s staff told the board during a regular meeting this week the proposal fell victim to a timing squeeze created by a board decision earlier this year. After hearing criticism that the FASB was overloading the system with too many major proposals too quickly, the board determined it would spread out its planned time line for issuing new proposals, which delayed the publishing of the multiemployer plan exposure draft to the third quarter of 2010.

The board agreed it won’t have adequate time to finalize the standard in time for the 2010 reporting year, but board members cautioned that a delay should not been seen as a sign of retreat. “I don’t want anyone to read this as a signal of putting it off ad nauseum,” said FASB member Marc Seigel. “This is something we’re going to need to deal with in the short run. It’s an area that requires more transparency.”

FASB Acting Chairman Leslie Seidman said the board will endeavor to finalize the standard in the second quarter of 2011, which should give plenty of time for implementation in the 2011 reporting year.

As for loss contingency disclosures, the board has twice floated proposals to beef up disclosures regarding unresolved issues or conflicts where a company may face future liabilities, and both proposals were panned. The board already determined it wouldn't finalize its latest proposal in time for the 2010 reporting year, and now has decided to delay any further work pending an assessment of existing compliance activity.

As suggested in a number of comment letters, the board determined it will tune in to efforts at the Securities and Exchange Commission to improve disclosures under existing rules, including regular interaction with registrants calling for more information and a recent blanket letter to CFOs calling for better discussion about risks related to mortgages and foreclosures.

“If you are of a view that this may be a compliance issue, then I guess I’d like to have the system work,” said Seidman. She said the board should hold off any further work on its proposal to see what the upcoming reporting cycle produces. “To the extent (disclosure improves), we’ll have better information to talk to people about and what else we need to do.”

In addition to delays on contingencies and multiemployer pension plans, the FASB earlier determined with the International Accounting Standards Board to slow down on a plan to overhaul the presentation of all financial statements, and FASB determined it will need more time to finalize a new rule regarding how to account for investment properties.