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Jan 26
2010

First look at Apple’s earnings under new rev recognition rules

Posted by MQuinn in revenue recognition, earnings, complianceAppleAccounting

MQuinn

Ron Fink wrote back in September about concerns over new accounting rules for revenue recognition doing little more than providing more areas of confusion for investors. 

Under the new rules, companies can book revenue based on estimated sales prices for all the components of "bundled deliverables" all at once instead of on their current fair value. The expectation is that the rule will boost upfront earnings for tech companies whose products combine hardware and software.

Well, on Monday night, Apple made its first quarterly earnings report under the new rules and they certainly gave the tech darling a boost, but it's unclear whether it will ultimately confuse investors. Indeed, they were likely distracted by Apple raking in $3.4 billion in net income for the quarter ended Dec. 26, up 50 percent from a year earlier.

Apple went to great lengths to explain the effect of the rules on its financial statements. The company revised its financial statements for each quarter from fiscal 2007 through fiscal 2009, the period it's been selling both the iPhone and Apple TV, which it had previously used subscription accounting for because it periodically provides free software upgrades and features for them.

Under subscription accounting, revenue and associated product cost of sales for iPhone and Apple TV were deferred at the time of sale and recognized on a straight-line basis over each product's estimated economic life of 24 months. This resulted in the deferral of significant amounts of revenue and cost of sales related to iPhone and Apple TV.

The changes had the effect of slimming the company's balance sheet considerably. Assets at the end of its fiscal year 2009 were reduced by $6.4 billion and liabilities were cut by $10.2 billion, giving a $3.8 billion boost to shareholders' equity.

And in reconciling its first quarter 2009 to the new accounting standard, Apple showed net sales got a nearly 17 percent boost, while its cost of sales went up just 11 percent. That had the effect of stretching gross margins from 34.7 percent to 37.9 percent.

Apple, which wasn't required to adopt the new rule until the first quarter of its fiscal 2011, certainly is not objecting to the change. In its earnings conference call Monday, CFO Peter Oppenheimer said, "We are very pleased by the FASB ratification of the new accounting principles as we believe they will better enable us to reflect the underlying economics and performance of our business and therefore we will no longer be providing non-GAAP financial measures."

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