Companies across the US are signalling that they are not happy with proposed new accounting rules that would require them to disclose potential losses from pending class action lawsuits, and increase disclosure on potential liabilities from products and operations.
As many as 140 big name corporates—including Ford Motor, GE, McDonald’s, Google and HP—signed a response to the proposed accounting changes, saying that they oppose the scheme, according to a report in Monday’s FT.
The changes would take effect under SFAS 5—Accounting for Contingencies.
Should the proposals go forward as is, it would mean a greater range of loss contingencies that companies are required to disclose—including those potential losses as a result of class action suits; the need to disclose specific quantitative and qualitative data about loss contingencies; require a table reconciling recognized loss contingencies; and finally, it would provide an exemption from disclosure in certain circumstances when that information would be prejudicial in a dispute, according to the FASB.
The deadline for comments on the draft proposal closed Monday.
The big fear for US corporates is that the expanded requirements for potential loss disclosure could lead to a raft of new class action suits—as lawyers take advantage of the increased information to, for example, file suits on companies that inaccurately estimate future losses.
Plus, it could have a materially adverse effect on their business, given the range of increased disclosures that are required.
For example, companies would have to report potential losses for any large suit, even for frivolous suits where the likelihood of success for the plaintiff was very remote.
And they would be required to list in reputable scientific journals any possibly significant liability in relation to products or operations, even when there has been no claim made to that effect, notes the FT.
The comments period for the draft was extended more than once. Originally it was slated to take effect by December last year, but was extended for further review.
The latest extension was added this summer—it was set to close in August but the FASB extended the deadline for comments to September 20, reportedly to make up for quarterly reporting deadlines and summer holidays of key stakeholders.