Although the new statement categories may resemble those used on current cash-flow statements, they won’t actually be handled the same way. “Don’t jump to Statement 95,” said Linsmeier, referring to the existing accounting standard on cash flows. “In [FAS] 95, if you’ve invested in property, plant, and equipment, you would call that an investing activity.” But under FASB’s new proposal, capital expenditures may well end up in the operating category. “Property, plant, and equipment used to develop your inventory is an operating asset,” Linsmeier explained.
Cash Flow Goes Direct
Another big change for preparers: using the direct method to generate a cash-flow statement. Though companies have the option to do so under current accounting, that option is almost universally ignored in favor of the indirect method.
Over the years, analysts have used the indirect method to analyze cash flows “because that’s all they have,” said Moody’s managing director Greg Jonas during the recent FASB Webcast. He and panelist Joe Joseph of Putnam Investments both said they thought the direct method was superior for predicting future cash flows, but admitted it will take analysts time to adjust their models. In the meantime, said Jonas, “What [FASB] is proposing would give them the information they would need if they wanted an indirect method. It’s very much like a cash-basis income statement. It allows the analyst to relate what’s going on in the income statement to what’s going on in the cash-flow statement.”
Not everyone likes that idea, however. Controller Peter Bridgman of PepsiCo said the cost to companies of using the direct method “will be significant,” while the value would be low. “If there was any value to using the direct method, we’d be using it already,” he said. PepsiCo is participating in a field test of FASB’s proposal.
“The proposal creates what looks like a cash-flow P&L,” said Bridgman. “That makes sense if you are in a not-for-profit or a small business environment, managing like a checkbook. But in most corporations, that’s not the way you’re really managing the business.
“Most of the questions we get from a cash-flow point of view are really trying to get at reconciling ‘Why is your growth in cash flow different from your growth in earnings,’ and the [direct] method really helped lay that out. It shows you whether extra cash is going into working capital or wherever. You lose that with the direct method.”
“Candidly, from a user’s perspective, I think this is at least one step back and maybe more than one step back,” said Bridgman. “From a preparer’s point of view, it’s a huge burden. If I look at the systems we’ve got, the consolidation system is designed to extract period-end or month-end balances, not to extract all the transactions in the middle that you need to prepare the direct method. It has got to be in the tens of millions of dollars to develop a system that would extract transaction-level data into consolidation.”
Moody’s Jonas and FASB member Marc Siegel both conceded that the use of the direct method would be costly, though Jonas disputed Bridgman’s characterization that the direct method had no value, saying it would prove useful to analysts. Both Jonas and Siegel stressed that it was important for FASB to finish its field testing and for companies to weigh in on the costs before condemning the proposal as too costly.