Accounting for Business Combinations

If your company is planning to merge with or buy another business, your attention is probably on conducting due diligence and negotiating deal terms. But you also should address the post-closing financial reporting requirements for the transaction. If not, it may lead to disappointing financial results, restatements and potential lawsuits after the dust settles.

Here’s guidance on how to correctly account for M&A transactions under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Identify assets and liabilities

A seller’s GAAP balance sheet may exclude certain intangible assets and contingencies, such as internally developed brands, patents, customer lists, environmental claims and pending lawsuits. Overlooking identifiable assets and liabilities often results in inaccurate reporting of goodwill from the sale.

Private companies can elect to combine noncompete agreements and customer-related intangibles with goodwill. If this alternative is used, it specifically excludes customer-related intangibles that can be licensed or sold separately from the business.

It’s also important to determine whether the deal terms include arrangements to compensate the seller or existing employees for future services. These payments, along with payments for pre-existing arrangements, aren’t part of a business combination. In addition, acquisition-related costs, such as finder’s fees or professional fees, shouldn’t be capitalized as part of the business combination. Instead, they’re generally accounted for separately and expensed as incurred.

Determine the price 

When the buyer pays the seller in cash, the purchase price (also called the “fair value of consideration transferred”) is obvious. But other types of consideration muddy the waters. Consideration exchanged may include stock, stock options, replacement awards and contingent payments.

For example, it can be challenging to assign fair value to contingent consideration, such as earnouts payable only if the acquired entity achieves predetermined financial benchmarks. Contingent consideration may be reported as a liability or equity (if the buyer will be required to pay more if it achieves the benchmark) or as an asset (if the buyer will be reimbursed for consideration already paid). Contingent consideration that’s reported as an asset or liability may need to be remeasured each period if new facts are obtained during the measurement period or for events that occur after the acquisition date.

Allocate fair value

Next, you’ll need to split up the purchase price among the assets acquired and liabilities assumed. This requires you to estimate the fair value of each item. Any leftover amount is assigned to goodwill. Essentially, goodwill is the premium the buyer is willing to pay above the fair value of the net assets acquired for expected synergies and growth opportunities related to the business combination.

In rare instances, a buyer negotiates a “bargain” purchase. Here, the fair value of the net assets exceeds the purchase price. Rather than book negative goodwill, the buyer reports a gain on the purchase.

Make accounting a forethought, not an afterthought

M&A transactions and the accompanying financial reporting requirements are uncharted territory for many buyers. Don’t wait until after a deal closes to figure out how to report it. We can help you understand the accounting rules and the fair value of the acquired assets and liabilities before closing.

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