As I noted back in May (“An Expensive Tax Cut“), companies will have to adjust the deferred tax assets recorded for stock compensation as a result of the new corporate tax rate. Because the tax reform bill was enacted in late December, companies don’t have as much time to record these adjustments as we might have originally expected, so the SEC has issued Staff Accounting Bulletin No. 118 to provide some relief.
The DTAs you’ve recorded for stock awards represent a future tax savings that the company expects to realize when the awards are eventually settled. When you recorded the expected savings, you based it on a 35% corporate tax rate. Now that the corporate tax rate has been reduced to 21%, the expected savings is a lot less (40% less, to be exact).
For example, say you recorded a DTA of $3,500 for an award worth $10,000 (the DTA was 35% of the $10,000 fair value of the award). Assuming that no portion of the award has been settled, you now need to adjust that DTA down to $2,100 ($10,000 multiplied by the new 21% corporate tax rate). You make the adjustment by recording tax expense for the difference between the new DTA and the original DTA. In my example, you would record tax expense of $1,400 ($3,500 less $2,100).
When Do Companies Record the Adjustments?
The adjustments have to be recorded in the period that the change in the corporate tax rates is enacted, not when it goes into effect. Once you know the tax rate is going to change, there’s no point in continuing to report based on the old rate; you immediately adjust your expectations. Since the bill was signed into law on December 22 and most companies have a fiscal period that ended on December 31, most companies will record the adjustments in that period. That doesn’t give companies much time to calculate the adjustments.
My example was very simple; things are a lot more complex in the real world, so it might not be quite that easy for companies to figure out the total adjustment they need to record for their DTAs. In addition, in some cases, it may not be clear what the adjustment should be. For example, the tax reform bill also makes changes to Section 162(m) (see “Tax Reform Targets 162(m)” and grandfathers some compensation arrangements from those changes (see “Tax Reform: The Final Scorecard“). There are currently some questions about which arrangements qualify for the grandfather; for arrangements that don’t qualify, the DTA may have to be reduced to $0. Companies may not be able to determine the adjustments they need to make to their DTAs until the IRS provides guidance.
Which brings us to SAB 118. The SEC issued SAB 118 to provide guidance to companies who are unable to determine all of the tax expense adjustments necessary in time to issue their financials. The SAB allows companies to make adjustments based on reasonable estimates if they cannot determine the exact amount of the adjustment. Where companies cannot even make a reasonable estimate, they can continue to report based on the laws that were in effect in 2017.
The SAB also provides guidance on the disclosures companies must make with respect to the above choices and provides guidance on how companies should report the correct amounts, once they are known.
I have another riddle for you: When does a tax cut result in more tax expense? When you’ve been recording deferred tax assets for years based on a higher tax rate, that’s when.
What the Heck?
As I noted in last week’s blog, the Trump administration has suggested lowering the corporate tax rate to 15% (from 35%). In the long term, that will certainly result in welcome tax savings for corporations. But in the short term, it could result in some unanticipated tax expense, particularly when it comes to stock compensation.
A quick refresher: when companies record expense for nonqualified awards (NQSOs, RSUs, PSAs, etc.) they also record a deferred tax asset (DTA) that anticipates the tax savings the company will ultimately be entitled to for the award. This DTA is based on the company’s current tax rate and reduces the current tax expense reported in the company’s P&L.
For example, let’s say a company records expense of $1,000,000 for nonqualified awards in the current period. The company will also record a DTA of $350,000 ($1,000,000 multiplied by the corporate tax rate of 35%—to keep things simple, ignore any state or local taxes the company might be subject to). Even though the DTA represents a future tax savings, it reduces the tax expense reported in the company’s P&L now.
But if the corporate tax rate is reduced to 15%, the tax savings companies can expect from their awards is also reduced. In this case, the anticipated savings of $350,000 will be reduced too only $150,000 ($1 million multiplied by 15%). The company told investors it expected to realize a savings of $350,000 but now it expects to only realize a savings of $150,000. That $200,000 shortfall will have to be reported as additional tax expense.
What Should You Do?
At this point, nothing. We have a way to go before the administration’s tax proposal becomes a reality. And while I can think of plenty of reasons cutting the corporate tax rate might not be a great idea, having to write off a bunch of DTAs isn’t one of them. Regardless of the DTAs, a lower corporate tax rate will lower taxes for companies.
But it’s good to understand how this works, so that if the proposal does become more likely, you know this is something you’ll need to prepare for.
For today’s blog entry, I have the results of the NASPP’s Quick Survey on ASC 718, presented in a nifty interactive infographic (place your cursor over a section of each chart to see its label). (Click here if you don’t see the graphic below.)
BTW—if you are one of the 83% of respondents that haven’t yet figured out the impact of the tax accounting changes to your earnings per share, see my blog entry “Run Your Own Numbers,” for easy-peasy instructions on how most companies can figure this out in just 5 minutes. It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and value to your accounting/finance team.
Last week, I used an example to illustrate the impact the new tax accounting rules under ASU 2016-09 will have on companies’ P&L statements. If your company is profitable, this is something you can do using your own financials. In this week’s blog entry, I explain how.
Finding the Numbers
I found all the numbers for my example in the company’s 10-K. I didn’t even have to pull up the full 10-K; I used the interactive data on EDGAR—it took me about 5 minutes. Here’s where to look:
You can find your company’s net earnings, tax expense, and basic EPS in your income statement (“income statement” is the less cool way to say “P&L,” which is shorthand for “profits & loss statement”).
You can usually find your excess tax benefit or shortfall in your cash flow statement or the statement of stockholders’ equity (or you may already know this amount, if you manage the database that this information is pulled from).
The number of shares used in your basic EPS calculation will be indicated in either your income statement or your EPS footnote.
What To Do With the Numbers
Once you have collected that data, you can do the following:
Post-Tax Earnings: The tax benefit represents how much post-tax earnings would be increased (or, if you have a shortfall, how much earnings would be decreased).
Effective Tax Rate: Subtract the tax benefit (or add the shortfall) to tax expense and divide by pre-tax earnings to determine the impact on your effective tax rate.
Earnings Per Share: Divide the tax benefit (or shortfall) by the shares used in the basic EPS calculation to figure out the impact on basic EPS.
Do these calculations for the past several years to see how much the impact on earnings varies from year to year.
Stuff You Should Be Aware Of
This exercise is intended to give you a general idea of the impact of the new tax accounting rules for your company. There are lots of complicated rules that govern how earnings and tax expense are calculated that have nothing to do with stock compensation, but that, when combined with the rules for stock compensation, could change the outcome for your company. This is especially true if your company isn’t profitable—if you are in this situation, it may be best to leave the estimates to your accounting team.
Also, I’ve suggested calculating the impact only on basic EPS because it’s a little harder to figure out the impact on diluted EPS. In diluted EPS, not only will the numerator change, but the number of shares in the denominator will change as well, because excess tax benefits no longer count as a source of proceeds that can be used to buy back stock. See my blog entry, “Update to ASC 718: Diluted EPS” for more information).
For today’s blog entry, I use an example to illustrate the impact the new tax accounting procedures required under the recently issued ASU 2016-09 will have on companies’ P&L statements.
Under the old ASC 718, all excess tax benefits and most tax shortfalls for equity awards were recorded to paid-in-capital. An excess tax benefit occurs when the company’s tax deduction for an award exceeds the expense recognized for it; a tax shortfall is the opposite situation—when the company’s tax deduction is less than the expense recognized for the award. The nice thing about old ASC 718 is that paid-in-capital is a balance sheet account, so these tax effects didn’t impact the company’s profitability. Under the amended ASC 718, all excess tax benefits and shortfalls are recorded to tax expense, which ultimately impacts how profitable a company is.
Effective Tax Rates
Not only do changes to tax expense impact a company’s profitability, they also impact the company’s effective tax rate. This rate is calculated by dividing the tax expense in a company’s P&L by its pre-tax earnings. A company’s effective tax rate is generally different from the company’s statutory tax rate because there are all sorts of credits that reduce the tax a corporation pays without reducing income and there are items that can increase a company’s tax expense that don’t increase income.
An effective tax rate that is lower than the statutory tax rate is good; it shows that the company is tax efficient and is keeping its earnings for itself—to use to operate and grow the company or to pay out to shareholders—rather than paying the earnings over to Uncle Sam. Just like you want to minimize the taxes you pay, shareholders want the company to minimize the taxes it pays.
This example is based on a real-life company that grants stock compensation widely. I’ve rounded the numbers a bit to make it easier to do the math, but my example isn’t that far off from the real-life scenario.
The company reported pre-tax income of $900 million for their most recent fiscal year and tax expense of $250 million. That’s an effective tax rate of 28%, which is probably less than their statutory tax rate.
The company reported (in their cash flow statement) an excess tax benefit for their stock plans of $70 million. Under the old ASC 718, that tax benefit didn’t impact the company’s earnings. But if it had been recorded to tax expense as is required under the amended ASC 718, it would have reduced the company’s tax expense to just $180 million. That reduces the company’s effective tax rate from 28% to just 20%.
In addition, the company’s basic earnings-per-share is $1.30, with 500 million shares outstanding. The tax benefit would have increased basic earnings per share by 14 cents, which is an increase of just over 10%.
Next week, I’ll explain how you can apply this example to your own company.
As noted last week, the FASB has issued the final Accounting Standards Update to ASC 718. Here are a few more tidbits about it.
The ASU Has a Name
Handily, the ASU now has a name that we can use to refer to it: ASU 2016-09. Now I can stop calling it “the ASU to ASC 718,” which was awkward—too many acronyms.
One surprise to me is how the transition works if the ASU is adopted in an interim period other than the company’s first fiscal quarter. When the ASU is adopted in Q2, Q3, or Q4, the update requires that any adjustments required for the transition be calculated as of the beginning of the fiscal year. Consequently, where companies adopt the ASU in these periods, they will end up having to recalculate the earlier periods in their fiscal year (and restate these periods wherever they appear in their financial statements), even if the transition method is prospective or modified retrospective, which normally would not require recalculation or restatement of prior periods.
For example, if a company adopts the ASU in its second fiscal quarter, the company will have to go back recalculate APIC and tax expense as required under tax accounting approach specified in the ASU for its first fiscal quarter. Likewise, if the company decides to account for forfeitures as they occur, the company will have to recalculate expense for the first fiscal quarter under the new approach and record a cumulative adjustment to retained earnings as of the beginning of the year, not the beginning of Q2.
While I can understand the rationale for this requirement, it is different than how I expected the transition to work for interim period adoptions.
No Other Surprises
The ASU 2016-09 seems to be an accurate reflection of the decisions made at the FASB’s meeting last November and documented ad nauseam here in this blog. I still haven’t read every last word of the amended language in the ASC 718, but I don’t think there are any other significant surprises.
Here are answers to a few questions you might have:
When do companies have to adopt the ASU?
Public companies have to adopt it by their first annual and interim fiscal period beginning after December 15, 2016. Private companies get an extra year to adopt it for annual periods and an extra two years for interim periods.
Do companies have to adopt the whole ASU at once?
You betcha! I’ve said it before: this isn’t a salad bar! You can’t pick and choose the parts of the ASU that you like: it’s all or nothing.
Can we adopt the ASU this quarter even though the quarter ends tomorrow?
Yep, you sure can. If you are prepared to change over to the new tax accounting procedures, have already decided whether you want to change how you account for forfeitures (and, if you are changing approaches, are ready to go with the new approach), and are prepared to comply with any other aspects of the ASU that apply to your company, you can adopt it in this quarter. But if you aren’t ready to go on any aspects of the ASU, you might want to wait until at least Q2 to give yourself a little more time.
Do we have to adopt it in this quarter if we want to adopt early?
No, this is not required. Companies can adopt it in any interim period up until they are required to adopt the update.
Are there any surprises in the final ASU?
Got me. I’m actually on vacation this week. I’m at spring training in Phoenix—where ASU stands for Arizona State University and I’m sitting four rows back behind home plate. I wrote this last week, before the FASB had issued the ASU, just in case. With the end of the quarter imminent, I wanted to have a blog entry ready to go so that any NASPP members whose employers want to adopt the ASU in Q1 would know that it had been issued. But I haven’t had a chance to do anything more than skim the ASU between innings.
I plan to have more complete coverage when I’m back in the office next week. For now, go A’s!
The FASB’s update to ASC 718 is a gift that keeps on giving, at least in terms of blog entries. Today I discuss something many of you may not have considered: the impact the update will have on the calculation of common equivalents under the Treasury Stock Method.
EPS: A Story of a Numerator and a Denominator
Earnings per share simply allocates a company’s earnings to each share of stock. It is calculated by dividing earnings (the numerator) by the number of shares common stock outstanding (the denominator). Public companies report two EPS figures: Basic EPS and Diluted EPS. In Diluted EPS, the denominator is increased for any shares that the company could be contractually obligated to issue at some point in the future, such as shares underlying stock options and awards. These arrangements are referred to as “common equivalents.”
A Quick Refresher on the Treasury Stock Method
The Treasury Stock Method is used to determine how many shares should be included in the denominator of Diluted EPS for all of the arrangements that could obligate the company to issue shares in the future. Under the Treasury Stock Method, companies assume that all of these arrangements are settled (regardless of vesting status), the underlying shares are issued, and any proceeds associated with the settlement are used to repurchase the company’s stock. The net shares that would be issued after taking into account the hypothetical repurchases increase the denominator in the EPS calculation.
The possible sources of settlement proceeds include any amount paid for the stock, any windfall tax savings (“windfall” is the operative word here), and any unamortized expense. For a more detailed explanation, see the chapter “Earnings Per Share” in Accounting for Equity Compensation in the United States.
What the Heck are “Windfall” Tax Savings?
“Windfall” tax savings are those that increase paid-in capital rather than decreasing tax expense. Normally, tax savings result from expenses and reduce the company’s tax expense. But this isn’t always the case with the tax savings from stock compensation. Sometimes the company’s tax deduction is greater than that expense recognized for an award. Currently when that occurs, the tax savings resulting from any deduction in excess of the expense simply increases paid-in capital; this savings doesn’t reduce tax expense.
How Does the Update to ASC 718 Change This?
Any windfall tax savings have to be accounted for somewhere in the EPS calculation. Right now, because these savings don’t impact tax expense or earnings, and thus aren’t reflected in the numerator of the EPS equation, they are treated as a source of settlement proceeds and reduce the denominator.
Once the update goes into effect, this is all changed. All tax savings, windfall or otherwise, will reduce tax expense and increase earnings, which means these savings will be reflected in the numerator for EPS. Because the savings will be reflected in the numerator, they will no longer be treated as a source of settlement proceeds under the Treasury Stock Method.
You Have to Admit, It Does Simply Things
The upshot is that, once a company has adopted the update to ASC 718, the settlement proceeds when applying the Treasury Stock Method to awards will be limited to just two sources: the purchase price and any amortized expense. Windfall tax benefits will be eliminated as a source of proceeds.
For my last installment (at least for the moment—expect another blog when the FASB officially adopts the new standard) in my series on the FASB’s ASC 718 simplification project, I answer a few questions relating to early adoption of the new standard.
Can companies adopt it early?
Yes, companies can adopt the amended standard in any interim or annual period after the FASB approves the official amendment. If the FASB approves the amendment as expected in this quarter, companies could adopt it in this quarter.
Can companies adopt it now?
No, not quite yet. Companies have to wait until the final amendment is approved by the FASB to adopt it.
Can companies adopt just the parts of the update they like early and wait to adopt the rest of it?
Heck no! This isn’t a salad bar; it’s all or nothing. You have to take the bad with the good.
If we start allowing employees to use shares to cover tax payments in excess of the minimum required withholding now, are my auditors really going to make me use liability accounting, given that we all know the rules are changing soon?
Well, I can’t really speak for your auditors, so you’d have to ask them—accounting-types do tend to be sticklers for the rules, however. If the FASB approves the amendment on time, you could adopt it this quarter and there’d be no question about liability treatment. But you’d have to adopt the whole standard, including the tax accounting provisions, so you would want to make sure you are prepared to do that.
If you don’t want to adopt the entire update as soon as the FASB approves it, liability treatment applies if shares are withheld for more than the minimum tax payment. For awards that are still outstanding when you adopt the update, this liability treatment will go away. You’ll record a cumulative adjustment at the time of adoption (see my blog last week on the transition) to switch over to equity treatment. But for the awards that are settled prior to when you adopt the standard, you won’t reverse the expense you recognize as a result of the liability treatment.
If the awards that will settle between now and when you expect to adopt the standard are few enough, the expense resulting from the liability treatment might be immaterial. Likewise, if your stock price is at or below the FMV back when the awards were granted, you might not be concerned about liability treatment because it likely wouldn’t result in any additional expense.
Note, however, that if you establish a pattern of allowing share withholding for excess tax payments, liability treatment applies to all awards, not just those for which you allow excess withholding. You could have liability treatment for all award settlements that occur before you adopt the amended standard.
For today’s installment in my series on the FASB’s ASC 718 simplification project, I explain what the next steps are in this process.
Is the update final now?
Not quite yet. For the most part, we know what the final update is going to look like because the FASB’s decisions with respect to each issue in the exposure draft are public. But the FASB staff still has to draft the actual amendment to ASC 718 and the FASB has to vote to adopt the amendment.
In addition, there are a few technical details in the exposure draft that were commented on and that we expect the staff to clean up, but we won’t know for sure until the amendment is issued. The FASB didn’t vote on these details because they don’t change the board’s overall position; it is merely a matter of clarifying what the board’s decision means with respect to some aspects of practical implementation. For example, the language of the proposed amendment relating to share withholding seemed to imply something different than the FASB’s explanation of what this change would be. I am assuming the staff will modify this language but we won’t know for sure until the final amendment is issued.
When will the FASB adopt the amendment?
According to the FASB’s Technical Agenda, this project is expected to be finalized in Q1 2016. Anyone who’s been in the industry for a more than a couple years knows, however, that these things tend to slip a bit. In my 20 years in this industry, I can’t think of a single regulation, rule, amendment, etc. that, when targeted for issuance during a specific time frame, came out earlier than the very last week or so in that time frame. (10 pts to anyone who can prove me wrong on this—I started in the industry in 1994, so stuff before that doesn’t count.) The FASB is no exception, so I’m guessing that we are looking at the end of March or maybe even Q2 2016.
When will companies be required to comply with the new guidance?
Public companies will have to adopt the update by their first fiscal year beginning after December 15, 2016 (and in the interim periods for that year). Private companies have a year longer to adopt for their annual period and two years longer for interim periods.
Will the standard now be called ASC 718(R)?
No. For people like me who write about accounting, that would be handy because it would make it easy to distinguish when I’m talking about the pre-amendment vs. the post-amendment ASC 718. Now I’ll have to use some sort of unwieldy clarification, like “ASC 718, as amended in 2016.” But under the FASB’s codification system, the existing standard is simply updated to incorporate the amendments. The name of the standard will stay the same.
If the Codification system didn’t exist, maybe we would call it FAS 123(R)(R). Or would it be FAS 123(R)2?