One of the more challenging estimates accounting for business combinations requires us to make is the fair value of contingent consideration. This seems like a particularly challenging process because one of the reasons contingent consideration may be part of a deal is that the buyer and seller of the business could not agree on a price! Nevertheless, in a transaction that involves contingent consideration ASC 805 states:
The consideration the acquirer transfers in exchange for the acquiree includes any asset or liability resulting from a contingent consideration arrangement. The acquirer shall recognize the acquisition-date fair value of contingent consideration as part of the consideration transferred in exchange for the acquiree.
So, despite the fact that the buyer and seller of the business did not agree on a price, we accountants estimate the fair value of the contingent consideration.
As time passes and circumstances evolve or become clearer this estimate is bound to change. Hence this subsequent measurement guidance:
Some changes in the fair value of contingent consideration that the acquirer recognizes after the acquisition date may be the result of additional information about facts and circumstances that existed at the acquisition date that the acquirer obtained after that date. Such changes are measurement period adjustments in accordance with paragraphs 805-10-25-13 through 25-18 and Section 805-10-30. However, changes resulting from events after the acquisition date, such as meeting an earnings target, reaching a specified share price, or reaching a milestone on a research and development project, are not measurement period adjustments. The acquirer shall account for changes in the fair value of contingent consideration that are not measurement period adjustments as follows:
a. Contingent consideration classified as equity shall not be remeasured and its subsequent settlement shall be accounted for within equity.
b. Contingent consideration classified as an asset or a liability shall be remeasured to fair value at each reporting date until the contingency is resolved. The changes in fair value shall be recognized in earnings unless the arrangement is a hedging instrument for which Topic 815requires the changes to be initially recognized in other comprehensive income.
Changes to estimates of contingent consideration, except in extremely simple cases, are inevitable. And, the opportunity to use such estimates for earnings management or other manipulative purposes is clear. As you would expect, the SEC CorpFin staff asks questions when they see unusual fluctuations. Here is one example comment:
- We note a significant gain of $31 million recorded during 2017 relating to a reduction in the contingent consideration of an acquisition in 2015. Please tell us, and revise to disclose, the nature of the events that lead to the reduction in the contingent consideration and how the reduced amount was calculated or determined.
The issue in the company’s financial statements underlying this comment was a decrease in SG&A from $151,353,000 in 2016 to $133,314,000 in 2017. Net income for 2017 increased over net income for 2016 by $2,500,000. The company’s disclosures surrounding this challenging contingent consideration estimate included the following: (note that the amounts in this footnote are in 000’s)
Note 1 – GENERAL (Cont.)
ACQUISITIONS AND INVESTMENTS
In July 2015, the Company acquired a division from an Israeli-based company (the “Seller”), for a total consideration of approximately $154,000, of which approximately $40,000 is contingent consideration, which may become payable on the occurrence of certain future events.
In December 2016, following certain claims and allegations demanding indemnification pursuant to the asset purchase agreement, the Company signed a settlement agreement with the Seller, in which the parties agreed on certain cash payments and a reduction of up to $4,000 from any contingent consideration payment to Seller. During 2017, the Company recognized a reduction of approximately $31,200 in its contingent consideration related to the acquisition of the division from the Seller (the reductions in the contingent consideration offset general and administrative expenses).
With all that as prelude, here is the company’s response to the SEC’s comment:
The asset purchase agreement (“APA”) applicable to the 2015 acquisition provided for contingent consideration to be paid to the seller if the acquired division met certain post-acquisition performance targets. Such performance targets were based on accumulated revenues during, and surplus backlog (based on actual orders received) at the end of, an earn-out period starting January 1, 2015 and ending December 31, 2017 (the “earn-out period”).
It should be noted that due to orders that could have been booked up to the last day of the earn-out period, the surplus backlog could be finally determined only at the end of 2017, based on order bookings and revenues up to that date.
The APA provided that any contingent consideration was to be determined following the end of 2017, with the Company delivering its calculation thereof to the seller by March 31, 2018, whereupon the seller would have a period of 45 days to review and notify the Company of any dispute with Company’s computation of the earn-out.
Following the end of the earn-out period, on December 31, 2017, the Company considered the facts and circumstances at that date and performed a detailed analysis involving the sales & marketing, finance and corporate management departments, to conclude whether the acquired division’s performance achieved the targets set forth in the APA. The Company’s analysis included a review of the acquired division’s actual revenues during the earn-out period as well as a review of the actual backlog as of December 31, 2017, the earn-out period expiration date.
Additionally, because of a possible commercial dispute with the seller due to the possible subjective judgment involved in determining the surplus backlog, and since the seller’s review and dispute period had not commenced, the Company assessed the likelihood of whether the seller might object to such a determination and retained contingent consideration of $4.5 million, which represented the Company’s best estimate for a potential settlement after the seller’s review of the calculations. Accordingly, the Company recognized a net gain of approximately $31 million resulting from the adjustment of the carrying amount of the earn-out contingent liability at December 31, 2017, which was recognized in general and administrative expenses on the consolidated statements of income.
During the first quarter of 2018, the Company delivered to the seller a schedule setting forth a computation of the earn-out amount, informing the seller that the performance targets under the APA were not met and no earn-out payment was required. During the second quarter of 2018, the seller’s review period expired without any claims made by the seller. Therefore, the Company decreased the earn-out contingent liability to $0.
In view of the circumstances described above regarding the contingent earn-out obligation and its resolution and finalization during 2018, we propose the following additional disclosure in our future filings, commencing with our 2018 Form 20-F, which will be filed in March 2019 (revisions are marked in underlined italics for the convenience of the Staff):
“During 2018 and 2017, the Company recognized reductions of approximately $4,500 and $31,200, respectively, in its earn-out contingent liability related to the acquisition of a division, since the Company concluded that the acquired division had not achieved the performance requirements necessary for making contingent earn-out payments. Further, in May 2018, the period in which the Seller could have filed a dispute over the earn-out computation expired without any claim or demand from the Seller. The income resulting from the reductions in the contingent consideration liability was recognized in general and administrative expenses.”
The next letter from the SEC? The one we like to see:
We have completed our review of your filing. We remind you that the company and its management are responsible for the accuracy and adequacy of their disclosures, notwithstanding any review, comments, action or absence of action by the staff.
Yes, it is an estimate. And yes, it is challenging. And yes, a reasonable, well documented approach to such estimates is crucial! This will become even more important when the PCAOB’s new standard about auditing accounting estimates becomes effective. More about this in a future post.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!