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The International Accounting Standards Board (Board) has published a Discussion Paper on possible improvements to the information companies report about acquisitions of businesses to help investors assess how successful those acquisitions have been. The Board is also seeking feedback on how companies should account for goodwill arising from such transactions. 

Better disclosures about acquisitions

Acquiring another business is a common way for companies to grow. However, acquisitions do not always perform in subsequent years as well as management initially expected. Investors would like to know more about how an acquisition is performing in relation to such expectations, not least so that they can hold a company’s management to account for its acquisition decisions.

In response to this feedback, the Board is suggesting changes to IFRS Standards that would require a company to disclose information about its objectives for an acquisition and, in subsequent periods, information about how that acquisition is performing against those objectives.

Accounting for goodwill

The Board has also considered whether to change how a company accounts for goodwill. Companies must test goodwill for impairment annually, but stakeholders have mixed views about whether this test is effective. Some argue that the impairment test informs investors about an acquisition’s performance. Others say that the test is costly and complex, and that impairment losses on goodwill are often reported too late.

The Board tried to identify a better impairment test—one that would require a company to report at an earlier date if its goodwill had lost value. The current test provides information to investors, but it tests a broader set of assets than just goodwill. The Board has concluded that there is no alternative that can target goodwill better and at reasonable cost. It expects that the new disclosure requirements would provide investors with the information needed on the performance of an acquisition.

Some stakeholders have suggested that the Board should reintroduce amortisation—the gradual write-down of goodwill over time, which was the requirement in IFRS Standards until 2004. But, having considered the pros and cons of amortisation, the Board’s preliminary conclusion is that it should retain the impairment-only approach, because there is no clear evidence that amortising goodwill would significantly improve the information that companies report to investors.

The Board’s Discussion Paper Business Combinations—Disclosures, Goodwill and Impairment contains further proposals in addition to those outlined above, including proposals to reduce the cost of the impairment test for preparers. 

The comment letter period was open until 31 December 2020. The deadline has changed to 31 December 2020 because of the covid-19 pandemic; previously it was 15 September 2020.