Much ado about nothing.
That’s Moody’s preliminary assessment of FAS 133 — the new standard for financial reporting of derivatives and hedging transactions. While many finance executives fought hard to head off the adoption of the standard because they felt that it was too costly and unnecessary, the credit rating agency said on Friday that FAS 133 is unlikely to have a major credit impact on U.S. corporations. (See earlier CFO magazine story.)
According to a Moody’s report, the chief beneficiaries of the standard will be investors, who stand to benefit from improved understanding of these complex transactions and their financial consequences. “While many corporations use derivatives, we believe that they are generally used for carefully targeted business purposes, and their use is both controlled and circumscribed,” Arthur Fliegelman, a Moody’s vice president, said in a press release. Fliegelman is co-author of the report, “Financial Reporting Of Derivatives & The Effect on U.S. Corporations: Still Evolving, But Unlikely to Have Major Credit Implications.”
FAS 133, which was adopted in 1998 by the Financial Accounting Standards Board, went into effect in June 2000, but most companies began adopting it at the beginning of 2001.
While FAS 133 has been a hot topic of discussion for several years now, Fliegelman predicts that the standard will have only a modest impact on income statements. “Most corporations that use derivatives in a significant manner have left no stone unturned in an effort to minimize the effects of this standard on their financial reporting results,” said the analyst in the press release. “Companies have extensively redesigned their hedging approaches in an effort to minimize the income statement effects of the standard.”
Moody’s does not expect FAS 133 to affect its credit ratings for U.S. corporations. The rating agency focuses primarily on a company’s underlying economics, rather than on financial reporting practices that often vary by geography and industry. Says Moody’s senior vice president Patrick Finnegan, the report’s co-author, “The fact that the standard rationalizes a financial reporting system that was unimaginably arcane and inconsistent is a real positive for the financial analysis process.”
According to the report, the largest potential benefit of the standard will be improved disclosure and transparency in issuers’ financial statement. That, of course, will depend on how well companies actually implement the standard.
Added Fliegelman, “The intent of FAS 133 is to give financial-statement users a better understanding of a company’s activities and risk exposures, but it remains unclear to what extent and how soon these benefits will emerge because of the considerable challenge of implementing such a complex standard.”
The study also includes a survey of the standard’s effects on 25 of the largest U.S. corporations. The result? Twelve companies reported that the adoption of the standard would not materially affect their financial position. The remainder reported relatively minor effects.
The Moody’s survey does underscore the difficulties of properly implementing the standard, however. Consequently, it will take several more quarters of reporting experience to get an improved understanding of the effects of FAS 133 on corporate hedging policies.