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投资理财

企业收入会计准则即将大变脸,投资者何去何从?

Jack T. Ciesielski 2014年07月04日

全球会计标准的重大改变将于2017年开始生效,极大地影响对企业收入和盈利的计算方法。届时,投资者需要比以往更加密切的关注一家公司的营运现金流。

    就像操作系统维持电脑运转一样,收入让公司保持运转;没有销售,就什么都没有。但全球会计标准的重大改变预计将于2017年生效,目前还不知道它将对企业的收入和盈利能力产生什么样的影响。

    新标准由美国财务会计准则委员会(FASB)和国际会计准则理事会(IASB)耗时12年联合编制。新标准意义重大,几乎美国所有的确认收入标准(甚至是特殊行业标准)均被摒弃,取而代之的是基于买卖双方合同关系的通用标准。

    等到这些标准开始实施(非上市公司获得的宽限期长于上市公司),世界上几乎每家公司都必须改变现行的计算收入流程。这是一项巨大且艰难的任务——但目前还很难说它是否会改变企业的收入和利润。

    收入会计或许看起来简单,但事实上是最伤脑筋的会计难题。想想那些与收入相关的企业失败案例吧:Sunbeam Corporation的虚假烤肉销售;微策略(Microstrategy)将服务与使用许可捆绑以快速确认收入,北电(Nortel)提前记入收入。这样的案例还可以列出很多。

    复杂的销售合同会让会计人员更头疼。如果软件使用许可、硬件和技术支持协议没有分别定价,客户一次性全额付清,销售方应如何分解价格?更为复杂的是,客户可能在不同的季度或年度获得同一笔合同“交付的产品与服务”,但提前付清了所有费用。这个过程就是估算,可以搞些不违规的“小动作”。

    由于新标准在确认合同收入时要求更多估算,耍花招的空间事实上增大了。无论是否落实到纸面,每笔买卖交易都存在合同关系。新标准的5步流程将让CFO们可以评估公司与客户的合同关系和其中的履行义务。

    最终的目的是,确定什么时间确认因履行义务而获得的收入是恰当的。在“可变对价”存在的情况下(比如,对冲基金的业绩奖金),新标准采用的估算(希望这些估算都是基于良好的判断)会比现有会计标准更多。根据现有的会计标准,此类收入要等到全部收到才能确认。基于一定的界定,新标准允许在有可能实现业绩的情况下,确认此类收入。由于收入确认的时间可能远早于现金流入的时间,投资者应当比以往更加关注营运现金流。

    就像新的操作系统需要多年开发一样(大家可以想一想 Windows 8操作系统),新标准也需要同样的卓绝努力。而且,像新的操作系统一样,最终结果可能是改进一个熟悉且受人喜爱的操作系统(比如Windows 7),会有陡峭的学习曲线和附加成本。当前看来,显然的赢家是FASB和IASB:它们已经完成了一项雄心勃勃的协同努力,调和不同标准,“刷新”损益表中最重要的数字。投资者是否是赢家,目前仍不可知。(财富中文网)

    本文作者是巴尔的摩资产管理和研究公司R.G.Associates, Inc.总裁。这家公司同时还出版《财会分析观察》,为机构投资者提供调研服务。

    Like an operating system runs a computer, revenue makes a company go; nothing happens until somebody sells something. But big changes over global accounting standards are expected to go into effect in 2017, and it’s unclear how it could affect the top line and profitability of corporations.

    The new standards, created jointly by the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), is 12 years in the making. It’s a big deal because almost all U.S. accounting standards for recognizing revenue – even specialized industry standards – are effectively being tossed out the window and replaced with a generalized standard based on contractual relationships between sellers and customers.

    By the time the standards kicks in (non-public companies have a longer grace period than public firms), nearly every company in the world will have to change the processes by which they figure revenues. That’s a big, hairy undertaking – but it’s too soon to tell if it will change their revenues and profits.

    Maybe accounting for revenue seems like a simple thing, but it’s actually one of the thornier accounting problems. Consider some of the vivid corporate flameouts involving revenue: Sunbeam Corporation’sphony sales of barbecue grills; Microstrategy’sbunching of services and licenses to recognize revenues quickly; Nortel’s premature revenue reporting. This list goes on.

    Complex sales contracts make life difficult for accountants. How does a seller parse the value of a software license, a piece of hardware, and a technical support agreement when there’s no separate price for each component – and the customer pays for all of them at once? Adding to the complexity, the customer may receive each contract “deliverable” over different quarters or years, while paying for all up front. The process brims with estimates, lending itself to gamesmanship.

    Because the new standard can require more estimates in recognizing revenue from contracts, the opportunity for mischief may actually increase. In virtually every seller-customer transaction, there’s a contractual relationship, whether or not it’s reduced to writing. The standard’s five-step process will make CFOs assess a firm’s contractual relationships with customers and the performance obligations contained in them.

    The ultimate goal is to determine when it’s proper to recognize the revenue resulting from satisfying those obligations. More estimates (and hopefully, good judgment) are in the process than under current accounting when “variable consideration” exists – like a performance bonus for a hedge fund. Under current accounting, such revenue wouldn’t be recognized until completely earned. Within boundaries, the new standard will allow such revenue to be recognized when the performance’s achievement is probable. Because revenue could be recognized much sooner than it turns into cash, investors should fix their attention on operating cash flows more than ever.

    Like a new operating system takes years to develop – think Windows 8 – this standard required the same kind of moon shot effort. Also like a new operating system, the end result might improve on a familiar and beloved operating system – think Windows 7 – but with a steep learning curve and added cost. For now, the clear winners are the FASB and the IASB: they’ve finished one of their most ambitious joint efforts to converge their differing standards while hitting ‘refresh’ on the income statement’s biggest number. The jury is still out on whether investors win.

    Jack T. Ciesielski is president of R.G. Associates, Inc., an asset management and research firm in Baltimore that publishes The Analyst’s Accounting Observer, a research service for institutional investors.

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