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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Longer wait for certainty and clarity - Accounting standard for property developers


Property developers, plantation firms given more time to adopt new accounting standards

PROPERTY developers and plantation players must be a relieved lot these days after the Malaysian Accounting Standards Board (MASB) recently ruled that such businesses are not obliged albeit temporarily to comply with two new accounting treatments that would have otherwise come into effect in January.

The two industries have complained that certain international accounting policies that Malaysia is supposed to adopt, ignore the way such businesses operate here and thus can be onerous and can distort the local companies' financial results.

The Real Estate and Housing Developers' Association of Malaysia, for example, has argued that the international accounting rules for recognising revenue from property development are based on the build-then-sell model of the West. However, in Asia, it's the norm for purchasers and their end financiers to pay progressively for the properties according to the stage of construction. Therefore, it makes more sense for developers to report revenue based on the percentage of completion method.

As for the Malaysian plantation companies, their contention is that their oil palm or rubber trees are comparable to a factory with its associated plant and equipment. These trees, the so-called bearer biological assets, should be valued differently from consumable biological assets such as wheat and maize.

The industry players' efforts to impress these points on the MASB has apparently been fruitful, and the board has worked to push forward these views at the regional and international levels.

On Nov 19, the board issued a new accounting framework called the Malaysian Financial Reporting Standards (MFRS), comprising standards issued by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) that are effective or will be effective on Jan 1 next year. This is part of the MASB's long-standing plan for convergence with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRSs).

However, entities that are within the scope of MFRS 141 Agriculture (MFRS 141) and IC Interpretation 15 Agreements for Construction of Real Estate (IC 15) are allowed to defer their adoption of the MFRS framework by another year.

MASB chairman Mohammad Faiz Azmi explained: “The rationale to provide the transitional period for both the agriculture and real estate industries is that, while the board is seeking full convergence, we need to be mindful of potential changes on the horizon that may change current accounting treatments. As the IASB is planning to issue a new standard on revenue recognition next year that will subsume IC 15 and may likely amend IAS 41 Agriculture (the equivalent of MFRS 141) requirements for bearer biological assets, we believe that to accommodate those affected by imminent accounting standard changes, a transitional arrangement should be given.

“Given this uncertainty, the board felt we should allow the status quo until the IASB direction is clearer. On balance, we believe this will not affect our convergence objective as the MFRS framework is fully IFRS-compliant and the transitional period given is only for a limited period and based on the IASB's own programme for standard changes.”

The MASB calls it a transitional period, but it also means there will be another year of uncertainty. And can we be sure that the IASB will sort out these things in time? Observers say it may be easier to amend IAS 41, but breaking the impasse over how developers should recognise revenue is likely to take a while.

On Nov 14, the IASB issued for public comment a revised draft standard to improve and converge the financial reporting requirements for revenue recognition. It is the second time that there is an exposure draft on this subject; the first such document was published in June 2010. IASB will be accepting comments on the current exposure draft until March 2012. After that, there will surely be months of deliberation and consultation. Is MASB being merely hopeful in expecting IASB to deliver a new standard on revenue recognition next year? And what happens meanwhile?

The plan initially was for the relevant Malaysian entities to adopt IC 15 for financial years beginning on or after July1, 2010. However, in August 2010, the MASB deferred it to January 1, 2012. At the same time, the board allowed companies to voluntarily implement IC 15 ahead of the deadline. One listed company, ATIS Corp Bhd, clashed with its auditors over a major subsidiary's decision to opt for early adoption.

Mazars, the auditors, insisted that property developers in Malaysia should stick to the percentage of completion method. With neither side willing to back down, three shareholders of ATIS requisitioned for an EGM to remove Mazars and the resolution was voted through.

This may well be an isolated episode, but asking shareholders to be pick sides in such a complex and esoteric debate was ludicrous. The corporate scene could do without a repeat of this. But when certainty and clarity are put on hold, there's always the risk of making poor decisions.

Executive editor Errol Oh wonders if it's naive to believe in the idea of one set of financial reporting standards to rule them all.

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