SEC Comment of the Week – A Favorite Topic

 

It is hard to believe we are already in mid-October, and the fourth quarter of the calendar year is well underway. Many companies will soon start planning for year-end reporting and being aware of “hot button issues” is a key part of this process. To help in this planning process we are going to highlight key planning issues through our blog posts. Here is the first of these issues we think all companies should be thinking about as year-end approaches.

As we have watched comments in recent weeks, one of the areas that continues to be emphasized is the quantification of analysis in MD&A. The roots of this issue are deep. Way back in 1989 one of the examples in FR 36 laid out the framework:

Revenue from sales of single-family homes for 1987 increased 6% from 1986. The increase resulted from a 14% increase in the average sales price per home, partially offset by a 6% decrease in the number of homes delivered. Revenues from sales of single-family homes for 1986 increased 2% from 1985. The average sales price per home in 1986 increased 6%, which was offset by a 4% decrease in the number of homes delivered.

The increase in the average sales prices in 1987 and 1986 is primarily the result of the Company’s increased emphasis on higher priced single-family homes. The decrease in homes delivered in 1987 and 1986 was attributable to a decline in sales in Texas. The significant decline in oil prices and its resulting effect on energy-related business has further impacted the already depressed Texas area housing market and is expected to do so for the foreseeable future. The Company curtailed housing operations during 1987 in certain areas in Texas in response to this change in the housing market. Although the number of homes sold is expected to continue to decline during the current year as a result of this action, this decline is expected to be offset by increases in average sales prices.

You can find the release at:

www.sec.gov/rules/interp/33-6835.htm

 

In 2003 FR 72 emphasized the importance of understanding the causal factors underlying changes:

  1. 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.

You can find the release at:

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

 

And, here are a few very recent comments where the staff focuses on these requirements in MD&A. (We have added emphasis to highlight key issues.)

As previously requested, please disclose more detail about the underlying material factors contributing to the increases in comparable store sales in both your year-end and interim results discussions, such as any changes in selling prices, volumes or the introduction or discontinuance of popular products that had a significant impact on your revenue. Refer to Item 303(a)(3)(iii) of Regulation S-K. In this regard, your current disclosures such as stating that comparable store sales increase primarily due to “strong deals in electronics, pets and clothing” do not provide enough insight into the underlying factors that drove the increase in comparable store sales that investors can access the likelihood that past results are indicative of future results. To the extent that multiple offsetting factors influenced your comparable store sales, you should discuss the impact of each significant factor. For example, if “strong deals” indicates that you lowered average prices through increased promotional activity, this would appear to decrease revenue; however, these lower prices may have been more than offset by higher volumes of products being sold. In this case, both the decrease in pricing and the increase in volume should be described.

Throughout your discussion of the results of operations, you refer to various factors that have impacted your results without quantifying the impact of each factor. Where a material change is attributed to two or more factors, including any offsetting factors, the contribution of each identified factor should be described in quantified terms. For example, you attribute the decrease in net sales and unit sales for the (Product A) in 2014 as a result of growth in the Greater China and Japan segments offset by declines in all other segments with no quantification. As another example, you attribute the growth in the Americas segment in 2014 as a result of increased net sales of (Products B, C and D), Software and Services offset by a decline in net sales of (Product E and A) and weakness in foreign currencies but you do not quantify the effects of these individual factors. Please explain to us how you considered quantifying the sources of material changes and offsetting factors throughout your discussion. Refer to Item 303(a)(3)(iii) of Regulation S-K and Section III.D of SEC Release No. 33-6835.

(Bloggers note: The release mentioned here is FR 36 quoted above)

We note you attribute the changes in headcount to explain certain changes in your results of operations but the headcount does not appear to be quantified. Please tell us your consideration of quantifying the headcount at the end of each period as a factor to explain the changes for the line items that are impacted. We refer you to Item 303(a)(3)(iii) of Regulation S-K and Section III.D of SEC Release No. 33-6835.

 

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

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