Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SEC Comment Letters: Goodwill Impairment

In a webcast last week, the Controllers’ Leadership Roundtable discussed SEC Comment letter activity surrounding goodwill impairment charges. Below is their summary of recent activity in this area.
SEC is hitting on three main areas.

  • Clear Identification of Impairment Recoverability Risks: If they are not doing so already, companies are going to need to ensure that they quantitatively disclose information about potential risks to revenue, operating results, and asset recoverability, so that investors have the ‘raw material’ required to judge the likelihood of future impairments. This includes explicitly addressing the economy, and the range of assumptions they used in evaluating its potential impact (and what changes in those assumptions would do to potential impairments).

  • Requiring Detailed Sensitivity Analysis: Along with identifying the range of assumptions used in their calculations, companies need to also disclose the sensitivity analyses used, so that investors and users can get a better sense of how impairment might change if certain conditions (e.g. 1% decline in revenue, 50 basis point increase in the interest rate) came to pass. This provides a check both on the validity of the impairment charges, and on the validity of management’s thought processes.

  • Managerial Judgment Process: In general, the SEC is also requiring companies to detail their impairment ‘thought process,’ including what inputs they used, and how they came to those input values. One comment letter called on firms to:

    In the interest of providing readers with a better insight into management’s judgments in accounting for goodwill and intangible assets, please consider disclosing the following:

  • The reporting unit level at which you test goodwill for impairment and your basis for that determination;

  • Sufficient information to enable a reader to understand how you apply the discounted cash flow valuation model in estimating the fair value of your reporting units and why management selected this method as being the most meaningful in preparing your goodwill impairment analyses;

  • How you determine the appropriate discount rates and attrition rates to apply in your intangible asset impairment and analysis;

  • A qualitative and quantitative description of the material assumptions used and a sensitivity analysis of those assumptions based upon reasonably likely changes; and

  • If applicable, how the assumptions and methodologies used for valuing goodwill and intangible assets in the current year have changed since the prior year, highlighting the impact of any changes.

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