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FASB proposes little fixes to big rules on financial instruments, leases

Tammy Whitehouse | October 3, 2017

The Financial Accounting Standards Board is proposing some new clarifications to its previously issued standards on the recognition and measurement of financial instruments and on leases.

FASB issued the financial instruments standard in January 2016 to take effect in 2018. The new standard to bring virtually all leased assets and their related liabilities onto corporate balance sheets takes effect in 2019.

The board routinely makes technical corrections to all accounting standards, but normally batches them into a catch-all update to address minor fixes across GAAP. Given the pending status of both the financial instruments standard and the leases standard, not to mention the significance of the changes they represent across corporate accounting, FASB decided to issue technical corrections for those two standards in a separate update of their own.

With respect to financial instruments, FASB identified six separate issues worthy of calling out for clarification. They involves areas of the standard such as equity securities without a readily determinable fair value, with respect to both discontinuations and adjustments, and forward contracts and purchased options. They also address presentation requirements for certain fair value option liabilities, fair value option liabilities denominated in foreign currencies, and certain aspects of transition guidance.

An alert by EY says FASB’s proposal is meant to answer questions that accountants have raised regarding the prospective transition approach, the new measurement alternative introduced in the standard for equity securities without readily determinable fair values, and the new presentation guidance for financial liabilities measured under the fair value option.

That said, EY observes the proposal does not address all the key questions some stakeholders have raised about how to apply the new guidance. It doesn’t answer questions about what should be considered a “similar” equity investment when applying the measurement alternative, EY says, nor does it explain how to what should be considered the “same type” of equity investments where entities may want to change their fair value method. “As a result, entities will have to develop reasonable policies to address these terms and consistently apply them,” EY says.

As for the leasing standard, FASB identified more than a dozen fixes that need to be made, in addition to the previously proposed clarification on land easements. FASB’s newest technical proposal would address the leasing standard’s language on residual value guarantees, rate implicit in the lease, lessee reassessment of lease classification, lessor reassessment of lease term and purchase option, variable lease payments that depend on an index or a rate, investment tax credits, lease term and purchase option, and transition guidance for amounts previously recognized in business combinations. The corrections also would address certain transition adjustments and other transition issues, transition guidance for leases historically classified as capital leases, and more.

FASB’s earlier proposal on land easements, or rights of way, is meant to answer concerns that the standard’s original requirements would be unnecessarily complex and burdensome to apply. As such, FASB offered an “optional practical expedient.”