Category Archives: SEC Hot Topic

Regulation S-X 3.13 – You Can Ask for a Break!

By: George M. Wilson, SEC Institute

Many of us have likely been in the position of reviewing an SEC disclosure requirement and thinking that the exact form of the requirement may not fit our particular circumstances. Sometimes we may believe such situations could create incremental work and cost while not providing particularly meaningful information to investors.


Is there any way to seek a discussion and discover a potentially better way to provide useful information to investors? It turns out, yes!


At the SEC’s conference in Washington, D.C. in early December, both Chair Jay Clayton and CorpFin Director William Hinman emphasized that the SEC is encouraging companies to consider using an historically little mentioned rule to avoid potentially complex costly disclosures that don’t provide material information to investors.


Regulation S-X Rule 3.13

210.3-13   Filing of other financial statements in certain cases.

The Commission may, upon the informal written request of the registrant, and where consistent with the protection of investors, permit the omission of one or more of the financial statements herein required or the filing in substitution therefor of appropriate statements of comparable character. The Commission may also by informal written notice require the filing of other financial statements in addition to, or in substitution for, the statements herein required in any case where such statements are necessary or appropriate for an adequate presentation of the financial condition of any person whose financial statements are required, or whose statements are otherwise necessary for the protection of investors.


Such requests will certainly require judgment, and both Chair Clayton and CorpFin Director Hinman emphasized that requests will be granted only when they are consistent with the goals of investor protection. That said, if an alternative to a formal rule will provide the information investors need Rule 3.13 can help avoid delay and unnecessary costs.


Director Hinman and CorpFin Chief Accountant Mark Kronforst (who you have likely heard will be leaving the SEC soon) discussed these process related issues:


First, all fact patterns are different, and it is important to not make any assumptions about how the process will work.


If you have a simple question you could begin by using the contact information in the CorpFin Financial Reporting Manual to get an initial plan in place.


The staff prefers that a formal request begin with email.


In your communication with the staff it is very important to explain all facts concisely and completely.


You should support you position with a clear explanation of why is it consistent with investor protection.


Early involvement of auditors also makes these requests proceed more smoothly.


The staff is working to respond promptly to each request and you should hear back in about 10 days unless the request is made during one of the periods when CorpFin is very busy.


Examples of areas where requests may arise include:


Significance tests – if one of the three parts of this test seems out of the norm then there may be other, more appropriate, considerations in making a determination whether separate financial statements are useful.


Pre-and post-acquisition periods for rule 3.05 – when appropriate it may be best to use an analysis that is less mechanical and focuses on trend issues that are meaningful and helps assess how the acquisition may impact on post-acquisition results.


Predecessor/Successor issues – relevance of stub periods may not be as relevant or reliable carve out F/S may not be possible to build. For example, it may be that abbreviated financial statement may provide the information that investors need.


IFRS financial statements may be acceptable for some acquisitions and equity method investees – if company could be a foreign private issuer the staff may accept IFRS financial statements.


Mechanical compliance with a rule sometimes is not the best way to provide investors with the information they need. It is a good thing to know that there are alternatives. So, when you think you are in this situation, go talk to the staff!



As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!


Are There Consequences for Reporting ICFR Problems? – The Chief Accountant Speaks!

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

In a recent speech SEC Chief Accountant Wesley Bricker, towards the end of his remarks, made some interesting overall comments about the evaluation of ICFR. These comments are an interesting step in the ongoing conversation about whether the SOX 404 evaluation of ICFR makes any difference in investor behavior. There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence and much discussion about this question. Mr. Bricker’s comments are not based on supposition, inference or piecemeal observation. His comments have their roots in articles from various academic journals, including the Accounting Review and The Journal of Accounting Research. Research in these peer-reviewed journals is based on statistical analysis of quantitative data. (If you have never heard of these journals, they are very prestigious academic journals, so if you decide to read any of the articles grab a cup of coffee and a calculator!)

Here are some excerpts from his remarks. The footnote numbers are references to the academic papers which support his points. We left them in so you could follow-up if you would like to review the quantitative research underlying his comments.


Recent experience with disclosures 

Another point related to ICFR is consideration of disclosures.  Investors tend to incorporate disclosure of ICFR deficiencies in the price they are willing to pay for a stock.  For example, companies disclosing material weaknesses are more likely to experience increased cost of capital, and to face more frequent auditor resignations and restatements.[11]


Recent academic research suggests:


Companies disclosing internal control deficiencies have credit spreads on loans about 28 basis points higher than that for companies without internal control deficiencies; [12] and


After disclosing an internal control deficiency for the first time, companies experience a significant increase in cost of equity, averaging about 93 basis points. [13]


Remediation of ineffective ICFR tends to be followed by improved financial reporting quality, reduced cost of capital, and improved operating performance.[14]   For example,


Companies that have remediated their prior disclosed internal control deficiencies exhibit an average decrease in market-adjusted cost of equity of 151 basis points; [15]  and


Remediating companies also experience increases in investment efficiency and in operating performance, suggesting that accounting information generated by effective ICFR is more useful for managerial decision-making. [16]


A disclosure of material weaknesses, combined with demonstrating progress toward remediation, can provide investors with information about the company’s ability to function as a public company.  Some companies, for example, voluntarily disclose material weaknesses in their registration statements along with their plans for remediating those weaknesses. [17]


You can find citations in to the relevant articles in the text of the speech.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

ICFR Changes and the New Revenue Recognition, Leases, and Financial Instrument Impairment Transitions

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey


In his recent, much publicized speech, Chief Accountant Wesley Bricker discussed the transition to the new revenue recognition standard. A bit later in the speech he addressed a not so frequently discussed issue, the requirement to disclose material changes in ICFR as it relates to implementation of the new revenue recognition, leases, credit losses and other standards. Here is an excerpt:


Over the next several years, updating and maintaining internal controls will be particularly important as companies work through the implementation of the significant new accounting standards. Companies’ implementation activities will require careful planning and execution, as well as sound judgment from management, as I have mentioned earlier in illustrating areas of judgment in the new GAAP standards.


In his remarks, well worth the read, he also comments on two crucial ICFR concerns in these new standards:

Having the requisite skills in the accounting and financial reporting area to make the many new, complex judgements required by these standards, and

Setting an appropriate tone at the top to assure these judgments are made in a reasonable, consistent and appropriate manner.


We did a post about reporting changes in ICFR in November 2016. To refresh your memory, or if you are not familiar with this area, here is a summary of the disclosures required for material changes in ICFR. This applies to material changes made to implement new accounting standards as well as any other material changes.


These requirements begin with Item 9A in Form 10-K and Part I Item 4 in Form 10-Q. They both refer to S-K Item 308(c):


(c) Changes in internal control over financial reporting. Disclose any change in the registrant’s internal control over financial reporting identified in connection with the evaluation required by paragraph (d) of §240.13a-15 or 240.15d-15 of this chapter that occurred during the registrant’s last fiscal quarter (the registrant’s fourth fiscal quarter in the case of an annual report) that has materially affected, or is reasonably likely to materially affect, the registrant’s internal control over financial reporting.


With changes to ICFR for revenue recognition for information about contracts and estimates, like stand-alone selling price and when control transfers, and changes to ICFR for capitalization of all leases, these new standards could require material changes to ICFR. Are these the types of changes included in the S-K 308(c) disclosure requirement?


This is an excerpt from the ICFR C&DI’s, number 7, about SOX reporting which you can find here:


After the registrant’s first management report on internal control over financial reporting, pursuant to Item 308 of Regulations S-K or S-B, the registrant is required to identify and disclose any material changes in the registrant’s internal control over financial reporting in each quarterly and annual report. This would encompass disclosing a change (including an improvement) to internal control over financial reporting that was not necessarily in response to an identified material weakness (i.e. the implementation of a new information system) if it materially affected the registrant’s internal control over financial reporting. Materiality, as with all materiality judgments in this area, would be determined upon the basis of the impact on internal control over financial reporting and the materiality standard articulated in TSC Industries, Inc. v. Northway, Inc. 426 U.S. 438 (1976) and Basic Inc. v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224 (1988). This would also include disclosing a change to internal control over financial reporting related to a business combination for which the acquired entity that has been or will be excluded from an annual management report on internal control over financial reporting as contemplated in Question 3 above. As an alternative to ongoing disclosure for such changes in internal control over financial reporting, a registrant may choose to disclose all such changes to internal control over financial reporting in the annual report in which its assessment that encompasses the acquired business is included.



The SEC Regulations Committee of the CAQ has also discussed a particularly intricate issue in this transition. What if you change your ICFR this year, but the change is for future reporting when you begin to report under the new standard next year? This issue is still in play, as this excerpt from the minutes discusses:


Changes in ICFR in preparation for the adoption of a new accounting standard

Item 308(c) of Regulation S-K requires disclosure of changes in internal control over financial reporting (“ICFR”) during the most recent quarter that have materially affected or are reasonably likely to materially affect the registrant’s ICFR. The Committee and the staff discussed how this requirement applies to changes in ICFR that are made in preparation for the adoption of a new accounting standard when those changes are in periods that precede the date of adoption and do not impact the preparation of the financial statements until the new standard is adopted.


The staff indicated that they are evaluating whether additional guidance is necessary for applying the requirements of Item 308(c) in connection with the transition to the new revenue standard.


So, as you begin implementing systems and processes for these new standards, don’t forget this part of the reporting!


As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Master SEC Reporting and Prepare to Tackle New Challenges


The complicated world of SEC reporting has now gotten even more challenging! Be sure you are prepared to comply with the recently enacted changes and have a plan in place to deal with the SEC staff “hot buttons”.  Attend SECI’s live workshop SEC Reporting Skills Workshop 2017 being held April 24-25 in Chicago, May 8-9 in McLean, Va., May 16-17 in Dallas and May 24-25 in San Francisco with additional dates and locations listed on the SECI website.

A Bit of SEC News and a Hopefully Enjoyable Video

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

In the first few weeks of the new Administration there was news from the SEC including reconsideration of the Conflict Minerals and Pay Ratio disclosures as well as the legislative repeal of the Resource Extraction Payment disclosure.

While there have not been as many highly publicized developments in recent weeks, the Commission is continuing its normal business. A final rule for Hyperlinks to Exhibits, a proposal to for Inline XBRL, approving an XBRL Taxonomy for IFRS, and a Request for Comment to consider changes to Bank Holding Company Disclosures in Guide 3 are a few of the normal course of business things going on at the SEC. The Enforcement Division continues its normal process with cases ranging from an auditor trading on inside information to a Ponzi scheme involving resale of Hamilton tickets. And, of course, CorpFin continues its review program, and after reviewing over 50% of all companies last year it will be interesting to see the numbers this year.

In a way, especially with so many of our SEC reporting community working on year-end and quarter-end reports, it is nice to have a normal flow of work from the SEC instead of big stories!

So, enjoy the lull! And, to have a bit of fun in this lull, here is a hopefully entertaining diversion. The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy has, via its website, produced a number of educational videos for investors. This one, titled “Don’t let someone else live the life you’ve been saving for”, is particularly entertaining! Enjoy!


As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

The SEC Comment Process – What if?

In all our workshops and seminars, when we discuss the SEC review process we always emphasize that when you get a comment from the staff you do NOT immediately change disclosure in response to the comment. As the staff says in their on-line “Filing Review Process” document, they view the process of issuing comments as a “dialogue with a company about its disclosure”.

You can find the filing review process document, which is updated on a regular basis at:—corp-fin.html


To illustrate, here is a real life comment example.



What would you do if you received this comment?


Reportable Segments, page 39

  1. Your segment discussion and analysis only refers to non-GAAP amounts. Pursuant to Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K, we remind you that more prominence should not be given to non-GAAP financial measures compared to GAAP financial measures. In this regard, please revise your discussion and analysis to first provide a discussion of the corresponding GAAP amounts for each segment ensuring equal prominence to that of your non-GAAP amounts.

The comment uses the language “please revise”, which is a bit scary, and in the back of our minds we hope we can push the comment to an “in future filings” comment if we decide the staff is on-point. The comment is focused on the use of non-GAAP measures in MD&A as discussed in operating segment disclosures. Of course, the use of non-GAAP measures in segment disclosures is appropriate if in fact your chief operating decision maker uses non-GAAP information. So, your first step in the research process for this comment might be to go review that part of ASC 280.




Here is the relevant section:


50-27     The amount of each segment item reported shall be the measure reported to the chief operating decision maker for purposes of making decisions about allocating resources to the segment and assessing its performance. Adjustments and eliminations made in preparing a public entity’s general-purpose financial statements and allocations of revenues, expenses, and gains or losses shall be included in determining reported segment profit or loss only if they are included in the measure of the segment’s profit or loss that is used by the chief operating decision maker. Similarly, only those assets that are included in the measure of the segment’s assets that is used by the chief operating decision maker shall be reported for that segment. If amounts are allocated to reported segment profit or loss or assets, those amounts shall be allocated on a reasonable basis.

ASC 280 then goes on to require disclosure about the measurement basis used for segment disclosures:

50-29     A public entity shall provide an explanation of the measurements of segment profit or loss and segment assets for each reportable segment. At a minimum, a public entity shall disclose all of the following (see Example 3, Cases A through C [paragraphs 280-10-55-47 through 55-49]):

  1. The basis of accounting for any transactions between reportable segments.
  2. The nature of any differences between the measurements of the reportable segments’ profits or losses and the public entity’s consolidated income before income taxes, extraordinary items, and discontinued operations (if not apparent from the reconciliations described in paragraphs 280-10-50-30 through 50-31). Those differences could include accounting policies and policies for allocation of centrally incurred costs that are necessary for an understanding of the reported segment information.
  3. The nature of any differences between the measurements of the reportable segments’ assets and the public entity’s consolidated assets (if not apparent from the reconciliations described in paragraphs 280-10-50-30 through 50-31). Those differences could include accounting policies and policies for allocation of jointly used assets that are necessary for an understanding of the reported segment information.
  4. The nature of any changes from prior periods in the measurement methods used to determine reported segment profit or loss and the effect, if any, of those changes on the measure of segment profit or loss.
  5. The nature and effect of any asymmetrical allocations to segments. For example, a public entity might allocate depreciation expense to a segment without allocating the related depreciable assets to that segment.


ASC 280 also includes this reconciliation requirement:


50-30     A public entity shall provide reconciliations of all of the following (see Example 3, Case C [paragraphs 280-10-55-49 through 55-50]):

  1. The total of the reportable segments’ revenues to the public entity’s consolidated revenues.
  2. The total of the reportable segments’ measures of profit or loss to the public entity’s consolidated income before income taxes, extraordinary items, and discontinued operations. However, if a public entity allocates items such as income taxes and extraordinary items to segments, the public entity may choose to reconcile the total of the segments’ measures of profit or loss to consolidated income after those items.
  3. The total of the reportable segments’ assets to the public entity’s consolidated assets.
  4. The total of the reportable segments’ amounts for every other significant item of information disclosed to the corresponding consolidated amount. For example, a public entity may choose to disclose liabilities for its reportable segments, in which case the public entity would reconcile the total of reportable segments’ liabilities for each segment to the public entity’s consolidated liabilities if the segment liabilities are significant.


With this, our review of the relevant GAAP literature is well underway, and substantially complete.



As you research the SEC’s requirements surrounding the use of non-GAAP measures, most of us are familiar with Reg G, which applies to non-GAAP measures in documents that are not filed, such as earnings releases. But this comment is about S-K Item 10(e) which applies to non-GAAP measures included in MD&A. As you read Item 10(e) you would find:

(5) For purposes of this paragraph (e), non-GAAP financial measures exclude financial measures required to be disclosed by GAAP, Commission rules, or a system of regulation of a government or governmental authority or self-regulatory organization that is applicable to the registrant. However, the financial measure should be presented outside of the financial statements unless the financial measure is required or expressly permitted by the standard-setter that is responsible for establishing the GAAP used in such financial statements.

Where to go from here? Lets get into the specific facts in the company’s Form 10-K.




Here is an excerpt from the company’s segment note:


“We prepared the financial results for our reportable segments on a basis that is consistent with the manner in which we internally disaggregate financial information to assist in making internal operating decisions. We included the earnings of equity affiliates that are closely associated with our reportable segments in the respective segment’s net income. We have allocated certain common expenses among reportable segments differently than we would for stand-alone financial information. Segment net income may not be consistent with measures used by other companies. The accounting policies of our reportable segments are the same as those applied in the consolidated financial statements.”

Here is an excerpt from the MD&A disclosure that the SEC comment is focused on:

When compared to the same period last year, core earnings increased in the twelve months ended December 31, 2013 by $202 million, or 13%, driven by the following items:


· Higher core earnings in the Optical Communications, Life Sciences,

Environmental Technologies and Display Technologies segments in the

amounts of $59 million, $44 million, $11 million and $7 million, respectively; and


Lower operating expenses in the amount of $49 million, driven by a decrease in

variable compensation and cost control measures implemented by our segments.


You can find the company’s Form 10-K at:


You can read the issues the SEC is commenting about in MD&A on page 39, and the segment note starts on page 137.

At this point we are ready to make an informed judgment about the comment. And this one follows a really twisty path! First, the MD&A clearly includes non-GAAP measures for “core” operations. And, interestingly, these are not the measures that are disclosed in the segment note in the financial statements. Since the measures used in the MD&A are not in the segment note the provision in S-K Item 10(e) excluding disclosures required under GAAP does not apply, and so the company must comply with the provisions. The next step is to, as we said above, make a case with the staff that it will be appropriate to fix this comment in future filings and not amend the current Form 10-K.



Here is the company’s response to the comment, and the staff did allow this to become a future filings comment:

We acknowledge the Staff’s comments and, beginning with our Form 10-Q filed for the second quarter of 2014, will revise our future disclosure to ensure that more prominence is not given to non-GAAP financial measures when compared to GAAP financial measures.  With respect to the request to revise our discussion and analysis to first provide a discussion of the corresponding GAAP amounts for each segment, we provide the following updated disclosure, which we propose to use in future filings.

You can read the response letter and the complete version of the response to comment 8 including the proposed disclosure at:



As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Known Trends and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Forewarning disclosures, the “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” are one of the topics we discuss occasionally in our blog posts. This MD&A disclosure can be very problematic because the information disclosed may alarm investors or make management nervous about creating a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

We are always watching how companies deal with these issues, and here are two examples from both ends of the potential disclosure spectrum.

The first example, dealing with goodwill impairment, is from a company that has been in the news a lot lately, Yahoo. Along with all the issues they have dealt with involving their investment in Alibaba, Yahoo continues to work on building their core business. As part of this process in June of 2013 they acquired Tumblr, the blog-hosting website. The purchase price was $990 million and in connection with the acquisition Yahoo recorded $749 million in goodwill. (See note 4 about acquisitions in the consolidated F/S in the 2015 10-K)

Fast forward the acquisition to December 31, 2015 and in note 5 to the consolidated F/S dealing with impairments Yahoo says:

As identified above, in step one, in 2015, the carrying value of the U.S. & Canada, Europe, Tumblr and Latin America reporting units exceeded the estimated fair value. The Company completed an assessment of the implied fair value of these reporting units, which resulted in an impairment of all goodwill for the U.S. & Canada, Europe, and Latin America reporting units and a partial impairment for the Tumblr reporting unit. The Company recorded goodwill impairment charges of $3,692 million, $531 million, $230 million and $8 million, associated with the U.S. & Canada, Europe, Tumblr, and Latin America reporting units, respectively, for the year ended December 31, 2015. The impairments were a result of a combination of factors, including a sustained decrease in our market capitalization in fourth quarter of 2015 and lower estimated projected revenue and profitability in the near term.


So, from June 2013 to December 31, 2015 the $749 million in Tumblr related goodwill was reduced by $230 million. In the tech world, these things happen.

But what about the future? In an interesting spot, Critical Accounting Estimates in their 2015 10-K MD&A Yahoo included this statement:

Given the partial impairment recorded in our Tumblr reporting unit in 2015, it is reasonably possible that changes in judgments, assumptions and estimates we made in assessing the fair value of goodwill could cause us to consider some portion or all of the remaining goodwill of the Tumblr reporting unit to become impaired, which comprised $519 million of our remaining $808 million goodwill balance as of December 31, 2015. In addition, a future decline in market conditions and/or changes in our market share could negatively impact the estimated future cash flows and discount rates used in the income approach to determine the fair value of the reporting unit and could result in an impairment charge in the foreseeable future.


This is a direct warning, using the S-K words “reasonably possible”.


Here is the second example. These comments are from a letter to a retailing company, and you can see the SEC is asking whether the company effectively dealt with an uncertainty in their future:

  1. Please expand this section to discuss any known material trends, events or uncertainties that have had or are reasonably expected to have a material impact on your liquidity or revenues or income from continuing operations. In this regard, we note (i) persistent comparable store sales decreases in fiscal year 2014 and through the first three quarterly periods of 2015 and (ii) that the company has scaled back its previously planned strategic retail expansion for fiscal year 2016 and beyond.

We also note management’s concern, as expressed in recent earnings calls, regarding the cannibalization effect from new retail stores, coupled with softer than expected new store performances. Please discuss whether you expect comparable store sales to continue to decrease, due to continued cannibalization or otherwise, and the short and long-term actions that you are taking to address any perceived trends. In this regard, your discussion should address your past and future financial condition and results of operation, with particular emphasis on the prospects for the future. See Item 303(a) of Regulation S-K and SEC Release No. 33- 8350.


One really interesting part of this comment is how the staff went well beyond the company’s filings to information disclosed in earnings calls.



As always, your thoughts and comments are appreciated!

Another SEC Accounting Enforcement


The most recent fruit of the SEC Enforcement Division’s on-going efforts to find and bring financial reporting cases is against Monsanto Company and several individuals. It was announced on February 9, 2016. You can read the release here:


The case involves some of the classic financial reporting problem areas including revenue recognition, manipulation of expenses and ICFR.


The settlement includes fines for both the company and individuals as well as two officers being barred from SEC practice. Interestingly, the settlement also requires the company to hire a compliance consultant to deal with the enforcement related issues.


The CEO and CFO, while not named in the case, voluntarily repaid bonuses and share based payment awards that would not have been paid if financial results had not been manipulated. This was essentially a voluntary clawback. As a result, the SEC did not have to bring a case based on the clawback provisions of SOX.


As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Climate Change – An MD&A Heads-Up

In our One-Hour Briefing discussing MD&A Hot Topics on February 8, 2016 we included climate change disclosures as one of the SEC’s current focus areas. We reviewed the SEC’s climate change disclosure guidance in FR 82 along with current developments in this area, including example SEC comments. This is clearly a very challenging uncertainty to deal with for many companies.  You can find FR 82 at:


If you are in an industry that is faced with this disclosure issue, WilmarHale’s Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Practice is in the process of presenting an eight-week series into this and other challenges facing the energy sector. You can read their thoughts about climate change disclosures and find the other posts in their blog at:


First Annual Dealing with MD&A Hot Topics.  Link to our one hour briefing by using the link below:


Hope this helps, and as always your thoughts and comments are welcome!