By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey
This is the first of three posts about an interesting conundrum in reporting that arose last year. The FASB, with ASU 2014-15, now requires disclosures by companies about going concern issues. However, there can be gaps between what companies are required to disclose and impact of going concern issues on the auditor’s report.
ASU 2014-15 added subtopic 205-40 “Disclosure of Uncertainties about an Entity’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern” to the Accounting Standards Codification. This update became effective for periods ending after December 15, 2016. Previously there was no specific requirement for management to make these disclosures. (This is of course Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or GAAP).
Auditors have had guidance in this area for many years courtesy of the PCAOB’s standard in AU section 341, which is now section AS 2415 in the PCAOB’s reorganized auditing standards. (This is Generally Accepted Auditing Standards, or GAAS).
To explore the gap between GAAP for companies and GAAS for auditors when reporting going concern issues we are going to present a series of three posts:
This first post will present an example of a going concern disclosure by a company and whether or not the auditor’s report was modified. (Spoiler – there was no mention in the auditor’s report!)
The second post will explore company disclosure requirements.
The third and last post will review auditor’s reporting requirements and detail the gaps between company and auditor reporting.
Sears Holdings, the retailer that owns Kmart and Sears, provided an example of this gap in their Form 10-K for the year ended January 28, 2017. In their financial statements Sears Holdings included this language:
We acknowledge that we continue to face a challenging competitive environment and while we continue to focus on our overall profitability, including managing expenses, we reported a loss in 2016 and were required to fund cash used in operating activities with cash from investing and financing activities. We expect that the actions taken in 2016 and early 2017 will enhance our liquidity and financial flexibility. In addition, as previously discussed, we expect to generate additional liquidity through the monetization of our real estate and additional debt financing actions. We expect that these actions will be executed in alignment with the anticipated timing of our liquidity needs. We also continue to explore ways to unlock value across a range of assets, including exploring ways to maximize the value of our Home Services and Sears Auto Centers businesses, as well as our Kenmore and DieHard brands through partnerships or other means of externalization that could expand distribution of our brands and service offerings to realize significant growth. We expect to continue to right-size, redeploy and highlight the value of our assets, including our real estate portfolio, in our transition from an asset intensive, historically “store-only” based retailer to a more asset light, integrated membership-focused company.
Our historical operating results indicate substantial doubt exists related to the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern. We believe that the actions discussed above are probable of occurring and mitigating the substantial doubt raised by our historical operating results and satisfying our estimated liquidity needs 12 months from the issuance of the financial statements. However, we cannot predict, with certainty, the outcome of our actions to generate liquidity, including the availability of additional debt financing, or whether such actions would generate the expected liquidity as currently planned. In addition, the PPPFA contains certain limitations on our ability to sell assets, which could impact our ability to complete asset sale transactions or our ability to use proceeds from those transactions to fund our operations. Therefore, the planned actions take into account the applicable restrictions under the PPPFA.
If we continue to experience operating losses, and we are not able to generate additional liquidity through the mechanisms described above or through some combination of other actions, while not expected, we may not be able to access additional funds under our amended Domestic Credit Agreement and we might need to secure additional sources of funds, which may or may not be available to us. Additionally, a failure to generate additional liquidity could negatively impact our access to inventory or services that are important to the operation of our business. Moreover, if the borrowing base (as calculated pursuant to the indenture) falls below the principal amount of the notes plus the principal amount of any other indebtedness for borrowed money that is secured by liens on the collateral for the notes on the last day of any two consecutive quarters, it could trigger an obligation to repurchase notes in an amount equal to such deficiency.
Sears Holdings used the term “substantial doubt”, but indicated that they believed their plans mitigated this “substantial doubt”.
This was the report of Sear’s Auditors:
In our opinion, the consolidated financial statements referred to above present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of Sears Holdings Corporation and subsidiaries as of January 28, 2017 and January 30, 2016, and the results of their operations and their cash flows for each of the three fiscal years in the period ended January 28, 2017, in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America. Also, in our opinion, such financial statement schedule, when considered in relation to the basic consolidated financial statements taken as a whole, present fairly, in all material respects, the information set forth therein. Also, in our opinion, the Company maintained, in all material respects, effective internal control over financial reporting as of January 28, 2017, based on the criteria established in Internal Control – Integrated Framework (2013) issued by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission.
No mention of a going concern issue at all in the auditor’s report! What is an investor to think? Historically, when the only concrete guidance was in GAAS, it was very rare to see this issue not discussed in both the financial statements and the auditor’s report.
This is, of course, part of the gap between GAAP and GAAS. In our next post we will begin to explore the space in this gap!
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!