Just in Case: FASB to Clarify Bankruptcy Issues

Amid the credit crunch, FASB releases new exposure drafts on "going concern" and "subsequent event" to clarify the issues.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board on October 9, issued two proposed statements of financial accounting standards (exposure drafts) that may become more relevant as the credit crisis continues. One deals with the circumstances under which a reporting entity must acknowledge that its status as a “going concern” is in doubt, and the other addresses the issue of how events occurring subsequent to a balance sheet date are to be accounted for. Neither exposure draft provides radically different information from existing guidance, but instead, seeks to clarify and codify the standards that have historically been applied to these issues.

Going Concern

The exposure draft entitled “Going Concern” aptly noted that when preparing financial statements management should assess the reporting entity’s ability to continue as a going concern. It directs company officials to file results on a going concern basis unless management (1) intends to liquidate the entity or cease operations, or (2) has no “realistic alternative” but to do so.

In assessing whether the going concern assumption (on which financial statements are prepared) is appropriate, management must take into account all available information about the future — which is defined as at least 12 months from the end of the reporting period. In this regard, management may identify information about certain “conditions or events” that, if considered in the aggregate, indicate there could be “substantial doubt” about the reporting entity’s ability to continue as a going concern. These conditions or events include:
“Negative trends,” such as recurring operating losses, working capital deficiencies, negative cash flow from operating activities, and adverse key financial ratios;
“Indications of financial difficulties,” such as default on loans or similar agreements, arrearages in dividends, denial of usual trade credit from suppliers, restructuring of debt, non-compliance with statutory capital requirements, and a need to seek new sources or methods of financing or to dispose of significant assets;
“Internal matters,” such as work stoppages, substantial dependence on the success of a particular project, uneconomic long-term commitments, and a need to significantly revise operations;
“External matters,” such as legal proceedings, legislation, loss of a key franchise, license, or patent, loss of a principal customer or supplier, and an un-insured or under-insured catastrophe.

If, after considering the information in the aggregate, management believes there is substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern, management is instructed to consider its plans, if any, for dealing with the adverse effects of those conditions and events. In addition, management must decide whether the plans will mitigate the adverse effects, and can be effectively implemented.

The draft states that in cases where management is aware of “material uncertainties” about events or conditions that may cast substantial doubt on the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern, the company should disclose those uncertainties. Moreover, when an company does not — in light of the existence of such material uncertainties — prepare its financial statements on a going concern basis, it should disclose this fact, as well as the basis on which the financial statements were prepared.

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