Recently, the FASB issued its long-awaited lease accounting standard.  Accounting Standards Update No. 2016-02, Leases (Topic 842), will have a big impact on the financial statements of construction companies that lease real property, equipment, vehicles and other fixed assets.

Here are four things these companies need to know to implement the new standard:

1. Companies must prepare before the effective date 

For non-public companies, the new standard applies to fiscal years starting after December 15, 2019 (including interim periods within those years). The ASU requires a “modified retrospective” transition, so your company must apply the new rules to leases existing at, or entered into after, the beginning of the earliest comparative period presented in your financial statements for the adoption year.

To ease the implementation burden, the ASU doesn’t require transition accounting for leases that expire before initial application of the new standard. You can also elect certain “practical expedients” that streamline the identification and classification of pre–effective-date leases and certain other accounting decisions.

2. Balance sheets will grow 

Under the new standard, as a lessee your company must recognize a “right to use” asset and a corresponding lease liability on your balance sheets for all leases with terms longer than 12 months. Both the asset and the liability will be based on the present value of minimum payments under the lease. The asset is subject to adjustment, such as for initial indirect costs. This significantly departs from current Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, which require capital leases to be recognized on the balance sheet but permit off-balance-sheet treatment of operating leases (with appropriate disclosures). Because most leases today are operating leases, the new standard is expected to cause many companies’ balance sheets to grow substantially.

The FASB believes that, by including operating leases on the balance sheet, it will be easier for financial statement users to compare companies that lease their productive assets with those that own them.

3. Lease classification still matters 

Although all leases will be treated similarly on the balance sheet, the new standard makes a distinction between operating leases and “finance” leases (similar to today’s capital leases) for purposes of reporting expenses on income statements. Operating leases will result in straight-line recognition of rental expenses (similar to current practice). However, for finance leases, your company will amortize the right-to-use asset (usually on a straight-line basis) and separately recognize interest on the lease liability over the lease’s life. This is likely to result in front-loaded expense recognition, similar to a mortgage, with higher interest expense in the lease’s early years and lower interest expense in later years.

The FASB’s dual model approach differs from the single model approach taken by the International Accounting Standards Board in its recently released lease
standard. As a result, lease accounting will be a challenge for some multinational companies.

4. Loan covenants and key performance indicators may be affected

Evaluate the potential impact of the new lease accounting standard on loan covenants. By substantially increasing lease liabilities on balance sheets, the new standard may cause some companies to violate loan covenants that place a cap on total debt or require the borrower to maintain a certain debt-to-equity ratio. Talk with your lender about modifying your loan agreements’ definition of “debt” or adjusting the permissible ratio. Assess the new standard’s impact on key performance indicators. This is particularly true for those that are used to calculate performance-based compensation.

Be prepared

As the FASB’s implementation date approaches, review your leases — including contracts with lease components — to assess the impact of the new standard on existing and future leases. Also evaluate your systems, processes and internal controls to ensure that you’re prepared to gather and record the necessary information. Finally, educate investors about the new standard’s impact on financial statements. Even though the underlying economics won’t change, investors may wonder why your company’s balance sheet has grown substantially larger without an increase in shareholders’ equity.
For more information, please contact Audit Senior Manager, Nick Bilotta at 206.382.7813.

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