Category Archives: Comment of the Week

Comment of the Week – Be Consistent in All Communications

One of the themes we discuss in our workshops is how the SEC does not limit their review process to information in a company’s SEC filings. Here is an example of a comment (which also deals with known trends and uncertainties, another favorite topic) that demonstrates how the Staff finds issues by looking in places such as earnings releases, conference call recordings and web pages:

 

Results of Operations, page 23

 

  1. Please expand your discussion to address any known trends or uncertainties that are reasonably expected to have a material impact on revenue, cost of revenue, or income from operations. For example, we note that during your 2015 fourth quarter and full year earnings call on February 11, 2016, your management quantitatively described the volume increase, as well as discussed your customer mix changes by segment and certain trends in 2016. In addition, disclosure appearing on page 11 of your filing on Form 10-K under your risk factors indicates that extended periods of low fuel prices can also have an adverse effect on your results of operations and overall profitability, as well as on the valuation of inventory to the extent your hedges are not effective at mitigating fluctuations in fuel prices. However, you have not provided a discussion in your filing with respect to an analysis of known material trends, demands and uncertainties.

 

Refer to Section III of Financial Reporting Release No. 72, codified in FRC §501.12 and Item 303 of Regulation S-K.

 

It is important to assure that all the vehicles you use to communicate with your shareholders and the rest of the public are consistent and that issues raised in one place are appropriately dealt with across all communication channels.

 

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Comment of the Week – Critical Accounting Estimates

It has been a while since we posted about critical accounting estimates. While this is now a normal part of MD&A it is surprising how many folks in our workshops don’t know where the “official” guidance for this disclosure is found.

 

There is a bit of confusion in the history of this disclosure. It all started in the post-Enron period with concerns about the quality of accounting principle selection discussed in FR 60 (the FRs are Financial Reporting Releases, interpretations that are approved by the SEC Commissioners). This release addressed the aggressive use of accounting principles and required disclosure in plain English of “Critical Accounting Policies”. FR 60 did not describe in great detail exactly what a critical accounting policy was or what disclosures should be made. You can find this brief FR, for perhaps historical purposes, here.

 

FR 60 was issued as a “quick fix” and the SEC planned to follow it with a formal rule for this disclosure. The rule was proposed, but it was never actually finalized. Instead the SEC dealt with this disclosure in FR72. If you scroll to Section V towards the end of FR 72 you will find the requirements for disclosure of critical accounting estimates.

 

www.sec.gov/rules/interp/33-8350.htm

 

(As you read this FR, note the evolution in terminology from Critical Accounting Policies to Critical Accounting Estimates.)

 

Don’t forget to look at the most recent Staff guidance in this area in FRM Section 9500, which gives guidance on disclosure of critical accounting estimates in the area of goodwill impairment.

 

Here are a few key issues about disclosure of Critical Accounting Estimates:

 

  1. Critical accounting estimates are not the same as significant accounting policies, and this part of MD&A should not simply duplicate this information from the financial statements. The focus should be on estimates and assumptions used in GAAP that have a material impact on financial condition and operating performance and on comparability over time.
  2. This disclosure should focus on why the estimate is “critical” and what is challenging about the estimate. Why is it difficult to make this estimate and what creates uncertainty about the precision of the estimate?
  3. Most companies won’t have that many of these “critical” estimates. Most companies start with a few and build from there. Often, lessons from past changes in estimates can help your identification process.
  4. The staff sometimes will ask about the quantified sensitivity analysis discussed in the last part of FR 72, so if information is available and will help investors understand the significance of the estimate and its uncertainty, consider disclosing it.

 

To help understand this disclosure, here is a recent comment from the SEC:

Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates

  1. In future filings please provide a more robust discussion of your critical accounting policies and estimates to focus on the assumptions and uncertainties that underlie your critical accounting estimates rather than duplicating the accounting policy disclosures in the financial statement footnotes. Please quantify, where material, and provide an analysis of the impact of critical accounting estimates on your financial position and results of operations for the periods presented. In addition, please include a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the sensitivity of reported results to changes in your assumptions, judgments, and estimates, including the likelihood of obtaining materially different results if different assumptions are applied. If reasonably likely changes in inputs to estimates would have a material effect on your financial condition or results of operations, the impact that could result given the range of reasonable outcomes should be disclosed and quantified. Please refer to SEC Release No. 33-8350. In your response, please show us what your disclosure would have looked like if these changes were made in your most recently filed Form 10-K.

 

 

As always, your thoughts and comments are appreciated!

Disclosure Effectiveness – Looking for A Deeper Dive?

Last week we lightheartedly posted about the fun of listening to a live webcast of an SEC meeting and being “cool” and “in the know”. The meeting we mentioned is on April 13th and includes this agenda item:

 

The Commission will consider whether to issue a concept release seeking comment on modernizing certain business and financial disclosure requirements in Regulation S-K.

 

Concept releases explore issues and very frequently provide insight into the direction that future policy making will take. As an example you could check out the SEC’s recent concept release about audit committee disclosures in this post:

 

seciblog.pli.edu/?p=462

 

Also, in some words that may be familiar to folks who have attended our SEC Workshops, here is a quote about MD&A from FR 36:

 

The MD&A requirements are intended to provide, in one section of a filing, material historical and prospective textual disclosure enabling investors and other users to assess the financial condition and results of operations of the registrant, with particular emphasis on the registrant’s prospects for the future. As the Concept Release states:

 

The Commission has long recognized the need for a narrative explanation of the financial statements, because a numerical presentation and brief accompanying footnotes alone may be insufficient for an investor to judge the quality of earnings and the likelihood that past performance is indicative of future performance. MD&A is intended to give the investor an opportunity to look at the company through the eyes of management by providing both a short and long-term analysis of the business of the company. The Item asks management to discuss the dynamics of the business and to analyze the financials.

 

Most importantly, the SEC listens and very often thoughtfully takes into account the issues discussed in comment letters in their subsequent rulemaking.   All this leads us to the conclusion, especially since the Disclosure Effectiveness process has been underway for quite a while, that this could be an important meeting!

 

If you would like to learn a bit more after the meeting, PLI will be presenting a One-Hour Briefing titled “SEC’s New Concept Release on Modernizing Regulation S-K” on April 25, 2016. Four speakers, including former CorpFin staffers, will present the briefing to help build a deeper understanding of the process. You can learn more at:

 

www.pli.edu/Content/Seminar/SEC_s_New_Concept_Release_on_Modernizing/_/N-4kZ1z10szo?Ns=sort_date%7c0&ID=283018

 

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

 

 

Comment of the Week – Market Risk Reminder

 

We have been discussing the topic of Market Risk Disclosures a lot in this environment of volatile exchange rates, bumpy commodity prices and uncertain interest rates. This disclosure is one of the most confusing parts of Regulation S-K. Without going into a whole lot of details about S-K Item 305 (which we covered in an earlier blog at seciblog.pli.edu/?p=489), as we move towards the end of the first quarter it will continue to be important to focus on getting this disclosure right.

 

So, with this post as a reminder, here is a quick example in a recent comment:

Item7A. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk, page 63

  1. Please provide an analysis on whether your “cash flow hedges,” discussed in the second- to-last paragraph of page 63, are material, such that you would need to provide the disclosure in Item 305(a) of Regulation S-K. Please see General Instruction 5.B to Item 305(a) and (b).

 

As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Comment of the Week – The Mystery of Market Risk Disclosures

Market Risk Disclosures are one area that many participants in our workshops seem to shy away from. This Item is one of the less well understood disclosures in Forms 10-K and 10-Q. The mechanics of writing the disclosure are, well, at best, mysterious.

With all the volatility in exchange rates, oil prices and other markets in the current environment these disclosures will likely become more important for many companies this year end. Because of this, we thought “going to go back to the basics” of this disclosure would be helpful in many companies’ year end process. So, this post includes a review of the objective of the disclosure and some tips to navigate the requirements in S-K Item 305 as you prepare the disclosure.

Since this is a comment of the week post, there are also some comments at the end of the post. If you are already comfortable with what market risk disclosures are about and how they work, you can skip to the end!

Objective of the Disclosure

To prepare these disclosures well it is crucial to understand their objective, what they are supposed to tell a reader. To understand this objective the first step is to understand what kind of risk the term “Market Risk” means. Market risk is a term that can be interpreted in a number of different ways ranging from the market for a particular product to market driven rates such as interest rates or commodity prices.

Deep in the body of Regulation S-K – Item 305, likely one of the most challenging reads in all of Regulation S-K, you find these instructions:

Instructions to paragraph 305(b): 1. For purposes of disclosure under paragraph 305(b), primary market risk exposures means:

  1. The following categories of market risk: interest rate risk, foreign currency exchange rate risk, commodity price risk, and other relevant market rate or price risks (e.g., equity price risk); and
  2. Within each of these categories, the particular markets that present the primary risk of loss to the registrant. For example, if a registrant has a material exposure to foreign currency exchange rate risk and, within this category of market risk, is most vulnerable to changes in dollar/yen, dollar/pound, and dollar/peso exchange rates, the registrant should disclose those exposures. Similarly, if a registrant has a material exposure to interest rate risk and, within this category of market risk, is most vulnerable to changes in short-term U.S. prime interest rates, it should disclose the existence of that exposure.

To paraphrase, these disclosures are not about the “market” for a product like computers or smartphones. They are about the risks a company faces from market driven prices like interest rates or commodity prices. So, while the market for smart phones could affect a company, the Market Risk Disclosures are about issues like how a change in interest rates could affect a company if the company has significant investments or borrowings.

And that brings us to the next step in understanding the objective of these disclosures. Once we know what sort of market risk we need to describe, what should we say about it?

In S-K Item 305(a)(1)(ii)(A) you will find this language:

“sensitivity analysis disclosure that expresses the potential loss in future earnings, fair values, or cash flows of market risk sensitive instruments resulting from one or more selected hypothetical changes in interest rates”

In other words, this disclosure is designed to help a reader assess how much a change in a market driven price, such as an interest rate or a commodity price, would affect the business.

Conceptually what this disclosure is about is fairly easy to understand. However, the application of S-K Item 305 is complex. It requires both qualitative and quantitative information   Our review here is fairly brief. S-K Item 305 has a maze of detailed rules. If you will be drafting or reviewing the disclosure you should refer to the actual S-K language. Also, the comments below illustrate several of the complexities in this rule.

Qualitative Disclosures

The logical place to start drafting is with qualitative disclosures. Knowing what a company’s market risks are is necessary before quantitative information will make sense to a reader. Unfortunately, in Item 305, the qualitative disclosures are sort of hard to find, as they are not the first thing listed. You can find them in paragraph (b), which says:

(b) Qualitative information about market risk.

(1) To the extent material, describe:

(i) The registrant’s primary market risk exposures;

(ii) How those exposures are managed. Such descriptions shall include, but not be limited to, a discussion of the objectives, general strategies, and instruments, if any, used to manage those exposures; and

(iii) Changes in either the registrant’s primary market risk exposures or how those exposures are managed, when compared to what was in effect during the most recently completed fiscal year and what is known or expected to be in effect in future reporting periods.

This qualitative information is really pretty simple; say what market driven prices such as interest rates, exchange rates, commodity prices or other types of prices affect the company; talk about how you manage them; and tell if they have changed. Note that the rules do not require that a company manage these risks, so if you don’t manage them, you should disclose that, along with the other information in (b) (10) above.  (Here is one place to review Item 305 in detail, as this disclosure needs to be broken down in pretty specific ways by type and source of risk.)

Quantitative Disclosures

The second part of this disclosure is quantitative, and is designed to help a reader understand how much a hypothetical change in market prices or rates could affect the business. Again, this is a very detailed requirement, but in essence starts with a choice among three alternatives:

Tabular Disclosure

S-K Item 305(a)(1)(i)(A)(1) describes a tabular presentation of information related to market risk sensitive instruments. This information includes fair values of the market risk sensitive instruments and contract terms sufficient to determine future cash flows from those instruments, categorized by expected maturity dates. In essence you are providing a reader with the input they could use to build a spreadsheet, make a price change assumption, and see how much the price change would affect the company’s income, cash flows or fair values.

Sensitivity Analysis

S-K Item 305(a)(1)(ii)(A) describes a sensitivity analysis disclosure that expresses the potential loss in future earnings, fair values, or cash flows of market risk sensitive instruments resulting from one or more selected hypothetical changes in interest rates, foreign currency exchange rates, commodity prices, and other relevant market rates or prices over a selected period of time. In essence, in this disclosure you build your own spreadsheet and assume a hypothetical change in rates or prices and compute the impact.

Value at Risk Analysis

S-K Item 305(a)(1) (iii)(A) describes value at risk disclosures that express the potential loss in future earnings, fair values, or cash flows of market risk sensitive instruments over a selected period of time, with a selected likelihood of occurrence, from changes in interest rates, foreign currency exchange rates, commodity prices, and other relevant market rates or prices. This is actually a complex econometric modeling process, and we won’t discuss it any further in this post. If your treasury or risk management group already uses this technique to assess risk it may well be a good disclosure option.

Again, this is very complex disclosure. You can choose one of the three alternatives for different risks, however you must disclose the most significant impact based on future earnings, fair values, and cash flows. Therefore, you must calculate the impact of a price change on income, cash flows and fair value to determine which has the greatest change, and thus is disclosed. Of course, If future earnings had the greatest impact last year, and this year the greatest impact is in fair value, then you would need to recast the prior year. These are only some of the judgments necessary to prepare this disclosure.
One last note, as you can see this disclosure is very forward looking, and is another reason the 1995 Private Securities Litigation Reform Act safe harbors are so important!
Example Comments

Last but not least, as this is a comment of the week post, here are some comments. Notice the focus on simple compliance with the S-K Item 305 disclosure requirements!

Foreign Currency Fluctuations, page 37

  1. We note from your disclosure on page 28 and in Note 26 that a substantial portion of your cash is held by foreign subsidiaries and 46% of your net sales to unaffiliated customers for fiscal 2014 were attributed to your foreign subsidiaries, respectively. We believe your market risk disclosures should be enhanced to provide a more robust discussion of the effects of foreign currency risk on your results of operations and financial condition. Additionally, your discussion of this market risk does not appear to comply with the guidance outlined in Item 305 of Regulation S-K. Please revise to expand your discussion of foreign currency risk to comply with one of the disclosure alternatives in Item 305(a) of Regulation S-K.

Quantitative and qualitative disclosure about market risk, page 70

  1. Please tell us how you considered the disclosures required by Item 305(a) of Regulation S-K with respect to your term loan.

Item 7A. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosure About Market Risk

Foreign Currency Risk, page 125

  1. Please tell us what consideration you gave to providing a sensitivity analysis for each currency (e.g., British Pounds and Euro) that may have an individually significant impact on future earnings.

Item 7A – Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk, page 30

  1. We note your quantitative disclosure of interest rate risk associated with your investments in cash and cash equivalents and investment securities. We also note that your disclosure does not address market risk for other financial instruments such as the senior unsecured notes. Please revise to include qualitative and quantitative information about market risk in accordance with one of the three disclosure alternatives within Item 305 of Regulation S-K and that addresses the interest rate risk for the senior unsecured notes.

Revenue Recognition Help From FinREC

As you know the new FASB and IASB revenue recognition standards supersede all our existing revenue recognition guidance. Here in the US the new standard was such a major change that it was placed in a brand new codification section (ASC 606). One of the major changes with the new model is how it treats “specialized industries”. Many industries, such as software and construction, had specialized industry revenue recognition guidance. All those standards are also superseded. These industries now face many questions and uncertainties about how to apply the new revenue recognition model to unique and different transactions.

The new model, designed to make revenue recognition principles consistent across all industries, is much more general and does not include the detailed kind of guidance that old GAAP frequently provided. This potentially increases the risk that there could be diversity within industries in the application of the new standard.

FinREC, the Financial Reporting Executive Committee of the AICPA, and the AICPA’s Revenue Recognition Task Force have been working to help deal with these issues. They have established 16 industry groups and are developing a new “Accounting Guide for Revenue Recognition”. These resources will be developed with participation and review of standard setters, but will not be authoritative. The groups describe them as eventually providing “helpful hints and illustrative examples for how to apply the new Revenue Recognition Standard.”

They have published a list of potential implementation issues identified to date which you can find at:

www.aicpa.org/InterestAreas/FRC/AccountingFinancialReporting/RevenueRecognition/DownloadableDocuments/RRTF_Issue_Status.pdf

As always, your thoughts and comments are appreciated!

Evolution of the Audit Committee – Part Four

In three previous posts about audit committee evolution we explored:

A bit of history about how audit committee responsibilities have changed over time,

Situations where independence issues have resulted in enforcement involving      auditors and companies, and

How some issues, such as auditor independence, are not just matters for the auditor to monitor, but also may require audit committee involvement.

 

As history demonstrates, audit committees play a crucial role in oversight of the financial reporting process. An effective audit committee is a crucial part of assuring the reliability and reasonableness of financial information. Unfortunately, history also shows us that audit committees don’t always successfully fulfill their responsibilities.

Chair White expanded on these issues in a June 2014 speech to the Stanford University Rock Center for Corporate Governance Twentieth Annual Stanford Directors’ College. In that speech, after reviewing two enforcement cases which involved audit committee members she said:

I mention these cases because audit committees, in particular, have an extraordinarily important role in creating a culture of compliance through their oversight of financial reporting. As you know, under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, audit committees are required to establish procedures for handling complaints regarding accounting, internal controls, and auditing matters, as well as whistleblower tips concerning questionable accounting or auditing practices. Audit committees also play a critical role in the selection and oversight of the company’s auditors. These responsibilities are critical ones and we want to support you. Service as a director is not for the faint of heart, but nor should it be a role where you fear a game of “gotcha” is being played by the SEC.

Clearly Ms. White is emphasizing the responsibility audit committees have as gatekeepers in the financial reporting process.

(You can read the whole speech at: www.sec.gov/News/Speech/Detail/Speech/1370542148863 )

All of this leads us to the SEC’s July 1, 2015 Concept Release POSSIBLE REVISIONS TO AUDIT COMMITTEE DISCLOSURES”. Attempting to perhaps incentivize audit committees to perform effectively, and even more importantly shed light on audit committee performance to help investors and other stakeholders understand whether audit committees are effectively fulfilling their oversight responsibilities are not simple issues, and this concept release begins a significant discussion.

What sorts of disclosures does the concept release propose to deal with these issues? The principle areas of focus are:

Audit Committee’s Oversight of the Auditor

Audit Committee’s Process for Appointing or Retaining the Auditor

Qualifications of the Audit Firm and Certain Members of the Engagement Team Selected By the Audit

In the summary of the concept release the commission makes their objective clear, stating:

Some have expressed a view that the Commission’s disclosure rules for this area may not result in disclosures about audit committees and their activities that are sufficient to help investors understand and evaluate audit committee performance, which may in turn inform those investors’ investment or voting decisions.

The reporting of additional information by the audit committee with respect to its oversight of the auditor may provide useful information to investors as they evaluate the audit committee’s performance in connection with, among other things, their vote for or against directors who are members of the audit committee, the ratification of the auditor, or their investment decisions.

Here is a quick outline of the areas addressed in the Concept Release:

  1. Auditor Committee’s Oversight of the Auditor
  2. Additional Information Regarding the Communications Between the Audit Committee and the Auditor
  3. The Frequency with which the Audit Committee Met with the Auditor
  4. Review of and Discussion About the Auditor’s Internal Quality Review and Most Recent PCAOB Inspection Report
  5. Whether and How the Audit Committee Assesses, Promotes and Reinforces the Auditor’s Objectivity and Professional Skepticism
  6. Audit Committee’s Process for Appointing or Retaining the Auditor
  7. How the Audit Committee Assessed the Auditor, Including the Auditor’s Independence, Objectivity and Audit Quality, and the Audit Committee’s Rationale for Selecting or Retaining the Auditor
  8. If the Audit Committee Sought Requests for Proposal for the Independent Audit, the Process the Committee Undertook to Seek Such Proposals and the Factors They Considered in Selecting the Auditor
  9. The Board of Directors’ Policy, if any, for an Annual Shareholder Vote on the Selection of the Auditor, and the Audit Committee’s Consideration of the Voting Results in its Evaluation and Selection of the Audit Firm
  10. Qualifications of the Audit Firm and Certain Members of the Engagement Team Selected By the Audit Committee
  11. Disclosures of Certain Individuals on the Engagement Team
  12. Audit Committee Input in Selecting the Engagement Partner
  13. The Number of Years the Auditor has Audited the Company
  14. Other Firms Involved in the Audit

As you can see, the areas the SEC is considering for disclosure are significant and would represent a major change in how much of the audit committee’s work is in the sunshine of disclosure. Along this evolutionary path it is important to remember that a Concept Release is essentially a discussion document. If the SEC does pursue rulemaking, the content of a proposed rule will be based on input received in response to the concept release. The SEC is always responsive to substantive comments, so if a rule is eventually proposed, it will differ from the proposed rule based on comments from constituents. This means we are early on in this process, and we can provide input to the process.

As a concluding thought, if you do want to comment on the Concept Release, here is where to do that:

www.sec.gov/cgi-bin/ruling-comments#

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

 

Comment of the Week – Its all About the Future!

One of the most challenging disclosures we discuss in our workshops is the required forward-looking MD&A requirement to disclose “known trends”. (As a heads-up, this post contains some pretty long comments, but they raise some very important issues!)

This forward-looking information requirement is rooted in the overall objective of MD&A as articulated in FR 72. The relevant section of the release states that part of the objective of MD&A is:

“to provide information about the quality of, and potential variability of, a company’s earnings and cash flow, so that investors can ascertain the likelihood that past performance is indicative of future performance” (emphasis added)

And, of course, this is done “through the eyes of management”.

You can find the whole release at:

www.sec.gov/rules/interp/33-8350.htm

From this objective it is clear that if management knows about something that means past performance is not going to be predictive of future performance and the information is material, it should be disclosed in MD&A. This is made clear in S-K Item 303(a) (3) (ii):

“Describe any known trends or uncertainties that have had or that the registrant reasonably expects will have a material favorable or unfavorable impact on net sales or revenues or income from continuing operations. (emphasis added)

The SEC is watchful for companies that surprise the markets with disclosure of bad news, potentially driving down their stock price, where the companies have not said anything about the bad news issue in previous filings.

In many cases the Staff’s presumption is that the bad news did not surprise management, and that in fact they knew about the problem well before they disclosed it to investors. In that situation, management likely failed to meet the disclosure requirements in MD&A and S-K Item 303(a) (3) (ii) specifically.

In our workshops we discuss some of the classic enforcement actions where this has happened, including the “groundbreaking” cases against Caterpillar and Sony. The staff continues to search for problems in this area, and frequently starts with the comment letter process.

Here are example comments that were written to a grocery store chain that had decided to exit one of its “banners”. In this industry a “banner” is a brand name for the supermarket chain. Notice the subtle interaction of these comments from the initial letter:

  1. We note that you announced the sale and/or closure of all of your (name omitted) stores in May 2014. We further note that in the related press release, filed as Exhibit 99.2 to your March 29, 2014 Form 10-Q, your Chief Executive Officer stated, “The economic downturn over the last few years, coupled with an increased competitive footprint in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Market, has made it difficult for (the company) to keep the (name omitted) banner competitive.” We further note that the disclosures regarding negative factors impacting your business within this Form 10-K appear to broadly apply to your business and do not specifically refer to the (name omitted) banner. Please tell us how you determined additional disclosures were not required in this Form 10-K as it relates to your (name omitted) banner. In your response, specifically explain how you considered whether these stores were disproportionately impacted by any of the negative factors described in your disclosures, either in the periods of historical financial statements included in this Form 10-K or in your analysis of trends and uncertainties that you reasonably expected would have a material impact on your future results. If the decision to sell this banner was influenced by worse than expected results for this banner during the first quarter of 2014, then also apply this comment to your MD&A disclosures within your March 29, 2014 Form 10-Q. (emphasis added)

The first comment above puts the trend disclosure on the table. This next comment goes a bit further, clearly articulating the “does the past predicts the future?” requirement:

  1. We note your disclosures under the heading “Goodwill Impairment Charge.” Please tell us, and disclose in future filings, why your fair value declined such that you recorded this impairment charge. We remind you that one of the principle objectives of MD&A is to provide your investors with enough insight into the underlying factors that drove your historical results [so] that they can assess the likelihood that past results are indicative of future results. We also remind you of your obligation to describe known trends and uncertainties that have had or you reasonably expect will have a material impact on your results. (emphasis added)

The following comment directly quotes S-K 303(a)(3)(ii), asking some very challenging questions:

  1. We note you recorded $280.0 million of pretax goodwill impairment charges in the quarter ended September 27, 2014. Please tell us what consideration you gave to updating your goodwill critical accounting estimate disclosures in your September 27, 2014 Form 10-Q. In this regard, you refer your investors to the critical accounting estimates on goodwill contained in your annual report. Given the charge you recorded in the most recent quarter it would appear the assumptions used to assess goodwill for impairment have significantly changed. Further, you now have two reporting units as opposed to one reporting unit at December 28, 2013. Please advise. Additionally, given the significance of the impairment charges and the material amount of goodwill remaining on your balance sheet, please show us what critical accounting estimate disclosures you anticipate making in your upcoming Form 10-K filing. Please ensure your disclosures provide investors with sufficient information to assess the material implications of uncertainties associated with the methods, assumptions and estimates underlying this critical accounting estimate. Refer to Item 303(a)(3)(ii) of Regulation S- K, which requires a description of a known uncertainty and Section V of SEC Release No. 33-8350. (emphasis added)

After the company’s responses to the above comments, the staff wrote this follow-on comment in the second round of comments. Note the depth of the analysis asked for in the comment and the depth of the SEC’s review into material that was not even included in a 10-K or 10-Q!

 We have read your November 2014 “Company’s Investor Presentation” and note the strong growth in the Chicago Market with the ChicagoBanner’s format. Further, you highlight several differences between your Wisconsin and Illinois markets. For example, on slide five you point out the Chicago market has “2x the productivity of your Wisconsin stores.” The information presented on slide six indicates that your ChicagoBanner’s banner is a “highly differentiated food shopping experience.” You further indicate on slide seven the ChicagoBanner’s banner has 1) two times the average Wisconsin retail sales volume, 2) lower EBITDA margin and higher gross profit dollars, and 3) strong store-level ROIC. We also note on slide sixteen that ChicagoBanner’s represents a significant growth opportunity for the Company. It also appears from the disclosures in your filings and your response to our comments that your Wisconsin and Illinois markets were behaving differently during 2013 and 2014, leading you to “[shift] focus to stabilizing [your] Wisconsin market” in contrast to “growing [your] ChicagoBanner’s banner.” We further note a general trend of highly differentiated grocery stores having higher profit margins than value-oriented grocery stores. Based on this information, we continue to believe that your Wisconsin and Illinois markets likely have different current or future trends in per-store revenue and per-store profitability, and that the mix of stores between these two markets will therefore impact your consolidated results. Please explain to us in significantly more detail why the apparent differences between these types of stores were not addressed in your most recent Form 10-Q, either as part of your analysis of results of operations or as part of your discussion of trends and uncertainties, and also tell us how these matters will be addressed in your upcoming Form 10-K. 


So, the moral of this story, if you know of something that is reasonably likely to have a material impact on future results, don’t keep it secret! Even if you hope it will not be a problem, these MD&A requirements need to be carefully reviewed to determine when to share the information with investors!

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

VIE Redux, and Perhaps a Bit Under the Radar…

The FASB is very close to finalizing new guidance that is expected to have a significant impact on VIE consolidation accounting. This new standard will require revisiting many, if not most, VIE determinations. It will change many existing VIE determinations.

The ASU is expected to be issued before the end of this year and to be effective in 2016 for public companies, with early adoption allowed.

This project has been in process for a long time, and the final stages are sneaking up on many of us. Because of the information that this redetermination will require, companies should:

  • Get out in front of determining what information they will need,
  • Proactively deal with the issues they may encounter in obtaining this information, and
  • Develop the new processes and controls these changes will necessitate.

During the development of the ASU most of the focus has been on investment management companies. The new VIE approach will have a significant impact in this industry. However, it will also impact most limited partnerships and will have a variety of other impacts.

The most significant areas that will be affected include:

  • Whether or not a limited partnership and similar entities are VIEs, and in particular the impact of kick-out rights,
  • When a general partner should consolidate a limited partnership, and again the impact of kick-out rights,
  • When and how variable interests held by the reporting entity’s related parties or de facto agents should affect consolidation conclusions,
  • How a fee paid to a decision maker or service provider by a VIE should affect the consolidation determination, and
  • When to require disclosures for a limited partnership that is a VIE but not consolidated by the reporting entity.

You can learn more about the project and its impact at:

http://www.fasb.org/jsp/FASB/FASBContent_C/ProjectUpdatePage&cid=1176157176582

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

 

SEC Institute Comment of the Week

More Analysis in MD&A

One of the recurring issues in SEC comment letters that sometimes creates substantial discomfort for preparers of MD&A is how much detail to provide in the analysis of why financial statement line items have changed.

These comments are about building an MD&A that helps people understand quality of earnings and the extent to which past performance predicts future performance (part of the overall objective of MD&A as spelled out in FR 72). That said, the knife edge between what the SEC’s rules say we must tell investors and trying to keep competitively sensitive information private is never easy to walk.

As a brief reminder, S-K Item 303 Instruction 4 says:

4. Where the consolidated financial statements reveal material changes from year to year in one or more line items, the causes for the changes shall be described to the extent necessary to an understanding of the registrant’s businesses as a whole; Provided, however, That if the causes for a change in one line item also relate to other line items…….

The key issue of course is understanding causal factors, and the SEC emphasized this issue in FR72:

4. Focus on Analysis

MD&A requires not only a “discussion” but also an “analysis” of known material trends, events, demands, commitments and uncertainties. MD&A should not be merely a restatement of financial statement information in a narrative form. When a description of known material trends, events, demands, commitments and uncertainties is set forth, companies should consider including, and may be required to include, an analysis explaining the underlying reasons or implications, interrelationships between constituent elements, or the relative significance of those matters.

Identifying the intermediate effects of trends, events, demands, commitments and uncertainties alone, without describing the reasons underlying these effects, may not provide sufficient insight for a reader to see the business through the eyes of management. A thorough analysis often will involve discussing both the intermediate effects of those matters and the reasons underlying those intermediate effects. For example, if a company’s financial statements reflect materially lower revenues resulting from a decline in the volume of products sold when compared to a prior period, MD&A should not only identify the decline in sales volume, but also should analyze the reasons underlying the decline in sales when the reasons are also material and determinable. The analysis should reveal underlying material causes of the matters described, including for example, if applicable, difficulties in the manufacturing process, a decline in the quality of a product, loss in competitive position and market share, or a combination of conditions.

With those thoughts as starting points, here are some comments dealing with this issue:

1. We note that you do not quantify the impact of the various factors that affected your revenues from period to period. For example, on page 21, you state that the sales of precious metals were negatively impacted by the exit of solar pastes and lower sales in your North American and Asian metal powders product lines prior to being sold, but you do not quantify the impact. Similarly, you state on page 27 that gross profit in Pigments, Powders and Oxides increased in 2013 primarily due to favorable raw material costs, but do not indicate either the change in raw material costs or the impact of this change. These are just examples. In future filings please quantify the effects of such factors (emphasis added), and also discuss whether you believe these factors are the result of a trend, and, if so, whether you expect it to continue and how it may impact your financial condition and results of operations. See Item 303 of Regulation S-K and SEC Release No. 33-8350. Please also see comment 3 of our letter dated August 19, 2009.

This next comment goes even further, actually discussing issues the company addressed in earnings releases but not in MD&A:

1. We note your response to comment 6 in our letter dated August 8, 2013. We appreciate that you have made efforts to provide investors with an understanding of the material causes behind the factors impacting sales. However, your discussion and analysis as it relates to operating profit for each of your segments could be improved. For example, continuing with your use of the North America segment, you state the increase is driven by higher pricing and volumes without any further analysis. For volume, we note there was a shift in product mix from your discussion and analysis of sales. However, you do not explain how this shift in product mix impacted operating profit and operating margin. For example, do the sales to the energy, manufacturing and metals end-markets generally earn higher profit margins than the electronics and chemical end-markets? We further reviewed your fiscal year 2012 earnings call transcript in which you provide analysts with additional analysis of the material factors impacting your operating results that are not carried forward to MD&A in your periodic reports. Examples include the following:

Budget anxiety and deferral of capital spending resulting from poor business confidence was strongly evident in Europe, South America and the U.S. Demand for packaged gases, primarily from the metal fabrication and machinery industries, slowed markedly in December as customers took extended holiday shutdowns in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, Europe and particularly South America.

Our on-site and merchant customers maintained solid demand through the year end as production from efficient steel mills, chemical plants and refinery runs continued strong. Moreover, we’re clearly seeing a strong rebound in China now that the new Communist Party has taken hold and some delays in decision making that we have seen in 2012 have ended.

During 2012, for the fourth year in a row, we achieved more than 6% savings in our cost stack through productivity. This amount was higher than our ongoing targeted 5% per year as the Praxair businesses accelerated initiatives during the year in production, procurement and distribution. Approximately 25% of our savings came from sustainable productivity initiatives, with the largest being energy efficiency improvement in our plant.

This level of analysis was not provided in your MD&A but appears to provide material information that would be useful for investors. Please refer to Item 303(a)(3) of Regulation S-K and Sections 501.06.a and 501.12.b. of the Financial Reporting Codification for guidance.

As always, your comments and thoughts are welcome!