Another Year Wiser: Takeaways from REITWise 2017

By Brandon Landas and Jan Herringer

In mid-March, leaders throughout the industry gathered in sunny California for NAREIT’s annual Law, Accounting & Finance Conference. Presentations spanned financial, accounting, tax, legal and political issues for REITs and real estate companies. Here are some of the event’s top takeaways from REITWise 2017.

Accounting for New Standards: Lease Accounting & Revenue Recognition

Throughout the conference, the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB) new Lease Accounting Standard, ASC 842, was a key topic of discussion. While the lease accounting guidance will have a more direct impact on REITs’ tenants, the industry is closely monitoring how their tenants are adjusting to the new standard. That said, REITs with ground and equipment leases will be directly impacted by the new standard. The changing guidance around revenue recognition under ASC Topic 606: Revenue from Contracts with Customers was also discussed at length. The new revenue recognition accounting standard takes effect in 2018, and the new lease accounting standard will become effective for public companies in 2019. That means now is the time for REITs to adopt an implementation plan and assess each standard’s impact to their operations and bottom line.

Dusting up Disclosure Requirements:

As part of the SEC’s Disclosure Effectiveness initiative, designed to improve the disclosure regime for both companies and investors, the SEC issued a Disclosure Update and Simplification Release (DUSTER) proposed rule in July 2016. While the SEC is deliberating how to move forward with the disclosure requirements, there are voluntary steps companies can and should take. Proactive measures REITs can adopt now include eliminating some archaic information in filings and streamlining repetitive and complex document language. REITs would also be wise to closely review existing disclosures and take proactive measures to improve their effectiveness—with an eye toward making them easier for shareholders to read.

Going Concern Update – Implications for Management and Auditors:

Accounting Standards Update 2014-15, Presentation of Financial Statements – Going Concern (Subtopic 205-40) Disclosure of Uncertainties about an Entity’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern, became effective at the end of 2016, specifically, for annual periods ending after December 15, 2016, and for annual and interim periods thereafter. This update, among other matters, includes a new requirement for management to evaluate whether there are conditions or events, considered in the aggregate, that raise substantial doubt about the entity’s ability to continue as a going concern within one year after the date the financial statements are issued (or within one year after the date that the financial statements are available to be issued, when applicable) and to provide certain related disclosures. Previously, there was no guidance in generally accepted accounting standards (GAAS) about management’s responsibility with respect to going concern.

In September 2014, the PCAOB issued Staff Audit Practice Alert (Staff Alert) No. 13, Matters Related to the Auditor’s Consideration of a Company’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern. This Staff Alert reminded auditors of public entities to continue to look to the existing requirements of PCAOB AS 2415, Consideration of an Entity’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern, when separately evaluating whether substantial doubt regarding the company’s ability to continue as a going concern exists for purposes of determining whether the auditor’s report should be modified.

More recently, in February 2017, the Auditing Standards Board of the AICPA issued Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS) No. 132, The Auditor’s Consideration of an Entity’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern (SAS 132). This SAS will be effective for audits of statements of nonissuers for periods ending on or after December 15, 2017, and reviews of interim financial information for interim periods beginning after fiscal years ending on or after December 15, 2017. SAS 132 clarifies that the auditor’s objectives with respect to going concern matters include separate determinations and conclusions from management regarding (1) the appropriateness of management’s use of the going concern basis of accounting, when relevant, in the preparation of the financial statements, and (2) whether substantial doubt about an entity’s ability to continue as a going concern exists, based on the evidence obtained, for a reasonable period of time as defined in the applicable financial reporting framework.

Don’t Bet All Your Marbles on Infrastructure Investment:

A big topic of discussion throughout the conference was the much-lauded trillion-dollar investment in infrastructure candidate Donald Trump discussed last year on the campaign trail. Enthusiasm has waned, however, since the White House published its preliminary budget blueprint. The proposal includes a $2.4 billion, or 13 percent, cut to the Department of Transportation’s budget, raising alarm bells for the sector. Earlier this year, REITs and real estate companies were bullish on infrastructure development and public-private partnerships (P3s). In light of the recent developments, though, infrastructure investment is less of a surefire win, leading many REITs to reevaluate their next moves.

This article originally appeared in BDO USA, LLP’s “Construction Monitor Newsletter (Summer 2017). Copyright © 2017 BDO USA, LLP. All rights reserved.