Which Intangibles Should Private Firms Report Following a Merger?

2018 is expected to be a hot year for mergers and acquisitions. But accounting for these transactions under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) can be complicated, especially if the deal involves intangible assets. Fortunately, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) offers a reporting alternative for private companies that simplifies accounting for new business combinations, avoiding a lot of red tape.

Private performance metrics

Companies that merge with or acquire another business must identify and recognize — separately from goodwill — the fair value of intangible assets that are separable or arise from contractual or other legal rights. Valuing intangibles can be costly, subjective and complex, often requiring the use of third-party appraisers and increasing audit costs.

When it comes to private business combinations, however, investors, lenders and other stakeholders question whether the benefits of reporting the values of all of these intangibles outweigh the costs. Private company stakeholders are primarily interested in tangible assets, cash flows, and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). Such metrics are unrelated to how companies report intangible assets in M&As.

Moreover, buyers in private business combinations generally evaluate a for-sale business based on its expected earnings and cash flows. They don’t customarily assign specific values to all of the seller’s intangible assets, especially not those that can’t be sold or licensed independently.

Exception to the rules

Since 2015, the FASB has allowed private companies to elect an accounting alternative that exempts noncompetes and certain customer-related intangibles from being identified and reported separately on the balance sheet after a business combination. This guidance requires no new disclosures for companies that elect this alternative accounting treatment.

Private companies that elect this alternative report fewer intangible assets in business combinations, thereby simplifying accounting for intangibles on the acquisition date and amortization in future periods. But the alternative doesn’t eliminate the requirement under GAAP to recognize and separately value other intangible assets acquired in business combinations, such as trade names and patents.

In addition, private companies with noncompetes and other customer-related intangibles that were acquired before the adoption of the alternative must continue to amortize those intangibles over the expected life that was set when the business combination occurred.

Although the reporting alternative simplifies matters, private companies will in most cases continue to need third-party appraisals for other separable and contract-based intangibles. Outside appraisals can be costly, but auditors typically won’t rely on fair value estimates made by management for these items.

Get it right

Accounting for business combinations can be complicated. And mistakes can lead to restatements and write-offs in future periods that may alarm stakeholders. We can help take the guesswork out of postacquisition accounting, including deciding whether to elect private company reporting alternatives and allocating the purchase price among acquired assets and liabilities. Contact us for more information.

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