6 minute read 2 Apr 2020
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Five financial reporting issues to consider as a consequence of COVID-19

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents huge challenges for preparers of financial statements. Here are 5 financial reporting issues to consider.

The business and economic threats from the coronavirus outbreak continue. Travel bans have been imposed on millions of people and many countries have placed quarantine measures on their entire populations. Businesses are dealing with lost revenue and disrupted supply chains and there has been significant volatility in financial markets.

In such unprecedented times, there is much to consider. The health and safety of people around the world is the priority. Support for businesses and their employees is, of course, also required. Many governments have already announced measures to provide both financial and nonfinancial assistance to disrupted industry sectors and affected business organizations.

In this context, transparency is key. There is a vital need for reliable information to regain trust in uncertain times, and part of that will be provided through financial reporting. The impact on financial reporting may not be the first thing that comes to mind as a consequence of the outbreak, but there is an important and challenging role here for preparers of financial statements, audit committees and auditors.

Transparency is key. There is a vital need for reliable information, and part of that will be provided through financial reporting.

Applying the current accounting and auditing standards will inevitably produce questions from all those involved in financial reporting. Existing audit and accounting requirements remain in place, although some regulators have provided updated guidance including relief in terms of deadlines.

On 4 March, the US Securities and Exchange Commission issued conditional relief from meeting deadlines that fall between 1 March and 30 April for filing annual reports, proxy statements and other regulatory documents. Similar measures have been taken in Spain and Hong Kong, with other regulators contemplating providing comparable relief. 

Companies will need to look out for further regulatory updates and to monitor the current and potential effects that the coronavirus will have on their financial reporting (updated April). There will be a number of areas for discussion, but five issues will be priorities: going concern and liquidity; impairment assessment; contract modifications; fair value measurement; and government assistance and income tax.

1. Going concern and liquidity

Understandably, management affected by the crisis will be concerned about the survival of their organizations. And the key will be cash flow – does the business have enough cash to survive the next six to 12 months?

When preparing financial statements, management has to make an assessment of a company’s ability to continue as a going concern, and whether the going concern assumption is appropriate. In the current circumstances, management will need to consider the existing and anticipated effects of the coronavirus outbreak on activities in its assessment.

Given the unpredictability of the potential impact, there may be material uncertainties that cast doubt on the company’s ability to operate under the going concern basis. If the company, nevertheless, prepares the financial statements under this assumption, it must disclose these uncertainties.

The degree of consideration required, the conclusion reached, and the required level of disclosure will depend on the circumstances in each case, as not all companies will be affected in the same manner and to the same extent. Significant judgment and continual updates to the assessments may be required given the evolving nature of the outbreak.

Understandably, management affected by the crisis will be concerned about the survival of their organizations. And the key will be cash flow.

2. Impairment assessment

At the end of each reporting period, companies are required to assess whether there is any impairment for nonfinancial assets. An asset is impaired when a company is not able to recover its carrying value, either by using it or selling it.

The adverse impact on companies caused by measures to stop the spread of the disease, such as temporary manufacturing plant closures and travel and import/export restrictions, can be considered an impairment indicator.

When assessing impairment, companies are required to determine the recoverable amounts of the assets. This calculation requires an estimate of expected future cash flows and expectations about variations in cash flows. The forecasted cash flows should reflect management’s best estimate of the economic conditions that will exist over the remaining useful life of the asset.

With the current situation, significant challenges are expected as to whether the forecast of budgets for future cash flows can be supported by subsequent performance. The more the current environment is uncertain, the more important it is for the company to provide detailed disclosure of the assumptions taken, the evidence on which they are based and the impact of a change in key assumptions.

3. Contract modifications

Companies affected by the COVID-19 outbreak may experience cash flow challenges as a result of disrupted operations, higher operating costs or lost revenues. They may need to obtain additional financing, amend the terms of debt agreements or obtain waivers if they no longer satisfy debt covenants. In such cases, they will need to consider whether any changes to existing contractual arrangements represent a substantial modification or potentially a contract extinguishment.

There are also consequences for lenders. Financial institutions, such as banks and insurance companies, are being asked to help borrowers by providing relief on cash-flow obligations. These will be considered contract modifications and will require institutions to think about the measurements of their loan portfolio and expected credit losses. Similarly, real estate companies will have to consider the consequences if they provide relief to lessees on rents.

4. Fair value measurement

Companies are required to measure some of their assets and liabilities at fair value. This is a date-specific exit price estimate based on assumptions that market participants would make under current conditions.

When making assessments and judgments for measuring fair value, the company should consider the conditions and corresponding assumptions that were known or knowable to market participants. The fair value measurement (FVM) impact would depend on the evaluation of whether the severity of the outbreak at the reporting date would have impacted participants’ valuation assumptions at that time.

Companies will also need to consider making related disclosures that could reasonably be expected to influence decisions that the users of general-purpose financial statements would make on the basis of those financial statements. Disclosure may be needed to enable users to understand whether or not the outbreak has been considered for the purpose of FVM. Users should understand the basis for selecting the assumptions and inputs that were used and the related sensitivities.

5. Government assistance and income tax

Part of the response by governments to the coronavirus outbreak has been to introduce support measures for individual industries along with wider economic stimulus packages. These measures include direct subsidies, tax exemptions, tax reductions and credits, extended expiry period of unused tax losses, reduction of public levies, rental reductions or deferrals and low-interest loans.

These will all have an impact on financial reporting. Relief measures may fall within the scope of the standards on income tax, on government grants, on leases or financial instruments and the accounting may be different in each case.

One important factor to consider when accounting for any income tax consequences is whether the government concerned has substantively enacted the relevant law. Companies will need to determine whether changes to tax rates and laws were substantively enacted as of the reporting date. The characteristics of any tax relief or rebates need to be assessed to determine whether they should be accounted for as a reduction to income tax expense or the receipt of a government grant.

Timely and meaningful disclosures about the potential effect on the company’s financial position, performance and viability, as well as measures taken to manage risks, are important to regain trust.

Regaining trust in turbulent times

We are living in unprecedented times on a global scale. Timely and meaningful disclosures about the potential effect on the financial position, performance and viability of the company, as well as measures taken to manage the risks, are important to regain trust. Financial reporting can play an important part in the communication between companies and their stakeholders in this turbulent period.

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Summary

Companies need to monitor the current and potential effects that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) will have on their financial reporting. Timely and meaningful disclosures about the potential effect on the financial position, performance and viability of the company, as well as measures taken to manage risks, are important to regain trust. Five issues will be priorities: going concern and liquidity; impairment assessment; contract modifications; fair value measurement; and government assistance and income tax.

About this article

By

Leo van der Tas

EY Global IFRS Services Leader

Focused on global high-quality financial information. Passionate about preparing younger generations for the future.