In 2015, FASB sent a number of stakeholders into a tizzy when it issued two exposure drafts, part of its disclosure framework project, intended to “clarify the concept of materiality.” After hearing from any number of preparers, practitioners and other commenters, FASB has now reversed course. According to FASB, the “main amendment” in Amendments to Statement of Financial Accounting Concepts No. 8, issued at the end of August, “reinstates the definition of materiality that was in FASB Concepts Statement No. 2, Qualitative Characteristics of Accounting Information, which was superseded in 2010.” In other words, it’s back to SAB 99.
In this speech before the 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival in Nashville, Tennessee, SEC Chair Jay Clayton discussed, among other topics, the coming agenda for public companies designed to “encourage capital formation for emerging companies seeking to enter our public capital markets.” The main topic was the plan to revisit the thresholds that trigger the SOX 404(b) requirement to provide an auditor attestation report on internal control over financial reporting. However, Clayton also added some news for private companies too. One thing is pretty clear from this speech: odds are excellent that relief from SOX 404(b) is in the offing for more small companies.
In her statement at the SEC open meeting held in 2016 to vote on issuing the proposing release for the SEC’s “Disclosure Update and Simplification,” SEC Commissioner Kara Stein protested that the proposal was, as she euphemistically framed it, so “hyper-technical” that many potential commenters may not be able “to truly access and understand what is being proposed.” Apparently, even in its final state, the release was so hyper-technical that none of SEC Commissioners could even bear to talk about it. Could that be why there was no open meeting to discuss adoption of the final rules? Just guessing, of course. What we saw instead was a Friday afternoon drop of this announcement and this 314-page release on the final rules. The SEC has also kindly provided this “demonstration version” of the rule amendments, essentially a blacklined version of the amendments. The final rules represent a component of the SEC’s disclosure effectiveness project, as well as an effort to implement one of the mandates of the FAST Act. The final rules become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, and the staff will review the impact of the amendments within five years thereafter.
On the White House lawn before he boarded a helicopter for the Hamptons and his New Jersey golf club for the weekend, reporters had the opportunity to lob a few questions at the president. While most of the questions were about security clearances and the criminal trials of his former staff, a different topic suddenly emerged in connection with an early morning tweet about quarterly reporting. The president said that, in his discussions with leaders of the business community regarding ways to improve the business environment, Indra Nooyi, the outgoing CEO of Pepsico, had suggested that one way to help business would be to trim the periodic reporting requirements from quarterly to semiannually. The argument is that the change would not only save time and money, but would also help to deter “short-termism,” as companies would not need to focus on meeting analysts’ expectations on a quarterly basis at the expense of longer term thinking. (For more on short-termism, see, e.g., this PubCo post.) He agreed that “we are not thinking far enough out,” and had asked the SEC to look into it.
You’ve got to just love the irony: the SEC’s amendments mandating the use of Inline XBRL aren’t even effective yet, and experts at an accounting conference have declared XBRL “nearly useless as an investment tool,” and “all but unnecessary.”
A couple of years ago, the SEC made a big push—through a series of staff oral admonitions and written guidance, as well as one enforcement action—toward requiring issuers to be more transparent and more consistent in the use of non-GAAP financial measures and to avoid altogether non-GAAP measures that were misleading. For example, companies were advised that they needed to present GAAP measures with equal or greater prominence relative to the non-GAAP measures. (See, e.g., this PubCo post.) And, as this article revealed, according to Audit Analytics, in 2016, over 25% of the companies in the S&P 500 index had shifted their presentations to put GAAP at the top of their quarterly earnings releases and 81% made GAAP numbers most prominent, compared with only 52% for the prior quarterly earnings releases. (See this PubCo post.) By the end of 2017, the SEC was apparently sufficiently satisfied with the response that the pendulum had swung back, and there was less staff focus and comment on non-GAAP financial measures. (See this PubCo post.) But is that really the end of the story? How “good” are the numbers that are fed to investors?