New Accounting Rule to Revamp Firms' Financials -- WSJ

By Nina Trentmann Features Dow Jones Newswires

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (November 20, 2017).

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Finance managers at Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC two years ago predicted a plunge in the aircraft engine maker's 2018 revenue and profit.

Starting Jan. 1, 2018, Rolls-Royce will no longer be able to put money from maintenance contracts on its books years before it begins to do the work. The company must wait to record that revenue until the actual service is provided, said John Dawson, director of investor relations. This is typically years after the company sells the engines at a loss.

The change is the result of a new accounting standard that will force businesses in more than 100 countries to rejigger how they recognize revenue. It is similar to a rule U.S. public companies will have to follow as of Dec. 15.

The new rules come as Rolls-Royce's order book is growing. Customers have placed around 500 orders for large engines that include Rolls-Royce's "TotalCare" maintenance program for next year, up from 450 this year and around 320 in 2016. When executives at Rolls-Royce recalculated some of the company's 2015 results using the new accounting rules, both revenue and profit were GBP900 million ($1.18 billion) lower than reported.

Rolls-Royce started updating investors, analysts and other stakeholders about potential changes to its financials about a year and a half ago, earlier than most other companies. "We have been proactive in handling this," said Mr. Dawson.

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The new rules will supersede virtually all existing revenue recognition requirements under International Financial Reporting Standards. A similar change is under way with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Under both standards, companies will be required to provide more detailed information about their contracts and accounting judgments, some of which they haven't gathered before.

Some sectors, such as telecommunications, media and pharmaceuticals, are expected to be affected more than others. So far, 29% of FTSE 100 companies still haven't disclosed an impact assessment, according to a September report by KPMG LLP.

"The impact will vary, depending on the individual company, their sector and their business model," said Nick Chandler, a partner at KPMG. The new revenue standard "requires a far deeper understanding of companies' contracts than previous rules. It's a huge exercise," Mr. Chandler said.

According to the KPMG study, only a small number of firms -- 9% -- expect the new rules to have a material effect. Still, all listed companies filing results under international financial reporting standards must publicly disclose that they have assessed the impact.

Deutsche Telekom AG is one company that expects a material change to its financials. The German telecommunications company's 2018 opening balance sheet will reflect a one-time increase of EUR3 to EUR4 billion ($3.5 billion to $4.7 billion) in retained earnings.

Going forward, the company is expected to post lower revenue in its mobile-service business but higher revenue in its hardware business starting from the first quarter.

The company also will have to provide more details about how it subsidizes the cost of a mobile phone with revenue from contracts sold alongside the device, said Guillaume Maisondieu, head of group accounting.

Deutsche Telekom has had around 50 people working on implementing the new standard for the past two years, Mr. Maisondieu said. That compares with several hundred employees are involved with preparing the company's financial statements.

The company plans to host webinars and calls to educate investors and other stakeholders about the accounting changes early next year, Mr. Maisondieu said.

Analysts say companies' impact assessments of accounting rules help them adjust their forecasts.

"In terms of my models, there were many material changes to the numbers in the profit and loss account" for Rolls-Royce, said Sandy Morris, an analyst at Jefferies LLC who covers the company. Mr. Morris said the company's disclosures and information sessions "were extremely helpful."

But not every company is so forthcoming. There have been limited instances of companies sharing "insightful" information, said Vincent Papa, director of financial reporting at the CFA Institute, the global association of investment professionals. "Many companies seem to be crawling to the starting line," he said.

The last opportunity for companies to disclose the potential impact of the new rules is in their financial results for the period ending Dec. 31, said KPMG's Mr. Chandler. These are usually filed six to eight weeks after companies close their books.

Germany's SAP SE has indicated the new accounting standard won't be material for its revenue. Still, some components of the balance sheet at SAP could look different next year, said finance chief Luka Mucic. "The transition to the new standard requires a considerable amount of work," he said.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 20, 2017 02:47 ET (07:47 GMT)