Keeping a king in the castle with a well-maintained cash reserve

 

You’ve no doubt heard the old business cliché “cash is king.” And it’s true: A company in a strong cash position stands a much better chance of obtaining the financing it needs, attracting outside investors or simply executing its own strategic plans.

One way to ensure that there’s always a king in the castle, so to speak, is to maintain a cash reserve. Granted, setting aside a substantial amount of dollars isn’t the easiest thing to do — particularly for start-ups and smaller companies. But once your reserve is in place, life can get a lot easier.

Common metrics

Now you may wonder: What’s the optimal amount of cash to keep in reserve? The right answer is different for every business and may change over time, given fluctuations in the economy or degree of competitiveness in your industry.

If you’ve already obtained financing, your bank’s liquidity covenants can give you a good idea of how much of a cash reserve is reasonable and expected of your company. To take it a step further, you can calculate various liquidity metrics and compare them to industry benchmarks. These might include:

• Working capital = current assets – current liabilities,• Current ratio = current assets / current liabilities, and• Accounts payable turnover = cost of goods sold / accounts payable.
There may be other, more complex metrics that better apply to the nature and size of your business.

Financial forecasts

Believe it or not, many companies don’t suffer from a lack of cash reserves but rather a surplus. This often occurs because a business owner decides to start hoarding cash following a dip in the local or national economy.

What’s the problem? Substantial increases in liquidity — or metrics well above industry norms — can signal an inefficient deployment of capital.

To keep your cash reserve from getting too high, create financial forecasts for the next 12 to 18 months. For example, a monthly projected balance sheet might estimate seasonal ebbs and flows in the cash cycle. Or a projection of the worst-case scenario might be used to establish your optimal cash balance. Projections should consider future cash flows, capital expenditures, debt maturities and working capital requirements.

Formal financial forecasts provide a coherent method to building up cash reserves, which is infinitely better than relying on rough estimates or gut instinct. Be sure to compare actual performance to your projections regularly and adjust as necessary.

More isn’t always better

Just as individuals should set aside some money for a rainy day, so should businesses. But, when it comes to your company’s cash reserves, the notion that “more is better” isn’t necessarily correct. You’ve got to find the right balance. Contact us to discuss your reserve and identify your ideal liquidity metrics.

© 2018

Sustainability reports look beyond the numbers

 

In recent years, environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues have become a hot topic. Many companies voluntarily include so-called “sustainability disclosures” about these issues in their financial statements. But should the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) make these disclosures mandatory and more consistent?

Identifying ESG issues

The term “sustainability” refers to anything that helps your company sustain itself — its people, its profits — into the future. A variety of nonfinancial issues fall under the ESG umbrella, including:

  • Pollution and carbon emissions,
  • Union relations,
  • Political spending,
  • Tax strategies,
  • Employee training and education programs,
  • Diversity practices,
  • Health and safety matters, and
  • Human rights policies.

There’s often a link between ESG issues and financial performance. For example, regulatory violations can lead to fines, remedial costs and reputational damage. And the sale of toxic or unsafe products can result in product liability lawsuits, recalls and boycotts.

On the flipside, identifying and successfully navigating ESG issues can add value by building trust with stakeholders, providing improved access to capital and lower borrowing costs, and enhancing loyalty with customers and employees. Tracking sustainability also helps companies identify ways to reduce their energy consumption, streamline their supply chains, eliminate waste and operate more efficiently.

Studying the costs of mandatory disclosures

Currently, most sustainability disclosures are made voluntarily. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) does require companies to describe the effects of climate change under Release No. 33-9106, Commission Guidance Regarding Disclosure Related to Climate Change. Unfortunately, these disclosures have been criticized by investors for being too general and not useful.

Recently, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) — an independent, nonpartisan U.S. government watchdog agency — to study the costs of requiring public companies to make ESG disclosures. His letter to the GAO references a 2015 survey, which found that 73% of institutional investors take ESG issues into consideration when they’re evaluating investment or voting decisions and managing investment risks.

Specifically, Warner asked the GAO to:

  • Analyze the effect of revising U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to account for ESG issues,
  • Evaluate the extent to which 1) companies address ESG issues in their disclosures, and 2) investors seek ESG disclosures and why,
  • Identify possible regulatory and nonregulatory actions that could improve and standardize ESG disclosures, and
  • Compare U.S. and foreign ESG disclosure regimes.

A major downside to today’s disclosures is inconsistency. Warner would like the GAO to explore ways to help investors “understand the likelihood of ESG risks and cut through boilerplate disclosure.”

Not everyone wants the GAO to proceed with the study, however. Some business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable, believe the SEC should focus on providing material information to investors and not cater to what they call “special interest groups.”

Sustainability audits

It’s uncertain whether ESG disclosures will become mandatory, but many companies already share information about green business practices, diversity programs, fraud prevention policies and other ESG issues. These disclosures can help add long-term value and improve relationships with stakeholders. Contact us for help preparing or auditing an independent, integrated sustainability report for 2018.

© 2018

How to trim the fat from your inventory

 

Inventory is expensive. So, it needs to be as lean as possible. Here are some smart ways to cut back inventory without compromising revenue and customer service.

Objective inventory counts

Effective inventory management starts with a physical inventory count. Accuracy is essential to knowing your cost of goods sold — and to identifying and remedying discrepancies between your physical count and perpetual inventory records. A CPA can introduce an element of objectivity to the counting process and help minimize errors.

Inventory ratios

The next step is to compare your inventory costs to those of other companies in your industry. Trade associations often publish benchmarks for:

  • Gross margin [(revenue – cost of sales) / revenue],
  • Net profit margin (net income / revenue), and
  • Days in inventory (annual revenue / average inventory × 365 days).

Your company should strive to meet — or beat — industry standards. For a retailer or wholesaler, inventory is simply purchased from the manufacturer. But the inventory account is more complicated for manufacturers and construction firms; it’s a function of raw materials, labor and overhead costs.

The composition of your company’s cost of goods will guide you on where to cut. In a tight labor market, it’s hard to reduce labor costs. But it may be possible to renegotiate prices with suppliers.

And don’t forget the carrying costs of inventory, such as storage, insurance, obsolescence and pilferage. You can also improve margins by negotiating a net lease for your warehouse, installing antitheft devices or opting for less expensive insurance coverage.

Product mix

To cut your days-in-inventory ratio, compute product-by-product margins. Stock more products with high margins and high demand — and less of everything else. Whenever possible, return excessive supplies of slow moving materials or products to your suppliers.

Product mix can be a delicate balance, however. It should be sufficiently broad and in tune with consumer needs. Before cutting back on inventory, you might need to negotiate speedier delivery from suppliers or give suppliers access to your perpetual inventory system. These precautionary measures can help prevent lost sales due to lean inventory.

Reorder point

Another important metric that’s not available from benchmarking studies is reorder point. That’s the quantity level that triggers a new order. Reorder point is a function of your volume and the purchase order lead time. If your suppliers have access to your inventory system, they can automatically ship additional stock once inventory levels reach the reorder point.

Take inventory of your inventory

Often management is so focused on sales, HR issues and product innovation that they lose control over inventory. Contact us for a reality check. We can provide industry benchmarks and calculate ratios to help minimize the guesswork in managing your inventory.

© 2018

Beware of unexpected tax liabilities under new accounting and tax rules!

 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) contains a provision that ties revenue recognition for book purposes to income reporting for tax purposes, for tax years starting in 2018. This narrow section of the law could have a major impact on certain industries, especially as companies implement the updated revenue recognition standard under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Recognizing revenue under GAAP

Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers, went into effect for public companies this year; it will go into effect for private companies next year. The updated standard requires businesses to all use a single model for calculating the top line in their income statements under GAAP, as opposed to following various industry-specific models.

The standard doesn’t change the underlying economics of a business’s revenue streams. But it may change the timing of when companies record revenue in their financial statements. The standard introduces the concept of “performance obligations” in contracts with customers and allows revenue to be recorded only when these obligations are satisfied. It could mean revenue is recorded right away or in increments over time, depending on the transaction.

The changes will be most apparent for complex, long-term contracts. For example, most software companies expect to record revenues in their financial statements earlier under ASU 2014-09 than under the old accounting rules.

Matching book and tax records

Starting in 2018, the TCJA modifies Section 451 of the Internal Revenue Code so that a business recognizes revenue for tax purposes no later than when it’s recognized for financial reporting purposes. Under Sec. 451(b), taxpayers that use the accrual method of accounting will meet the “all events test” no later than the taxable year in which the item is taken into account as revenue in a taxpayer’s “applicable financial statement.”

The TCJA also added Sec. 451(c), referred to as the “rule for advance payments.” At a high level, the rule can require businesses to recognize taxable income even earlier than when it’s recognized for book purposes if the company receives a so-called “advance payment.”

Some companies delivering complex products, such as an aerospace parts supplier making a custom component, can receive payments from customers years before they build and deliver the product. Under ASU 2014-09, a business can’t recognize revenue until it’s completed its performance obligations in the contract, even if an amount has been paid in advance. However, under Sec. 451(c), companies may be taxed before they recognize revenue on their financial statements from contracts that call for advance payments.

Will the changes affect your business?

Changes in the TCJA, combined with the new revenue recognition rules under GAAP, will cause some companies to recognize taxable income sooner than in the past. In some industries, this could mean significantly accelerated tax bills. However, others won’t experience any noticeable differences. We can help you evaluate how the accounting rule and tax law changes will affect your company, based on its unique circumstances.

© 2018

Keep it SIMPLE: A tax-advantaged retirement plan solution for small businesses

 

If your small business doesn’t offer its employees a retirement plan, you may want to consider a SIMPLE IRA. Offering a retirement plan can provide your business with valuable tax deductions and help you attract and retain employees. For a variety of reasons, a SIMPLE IRA can be a particularly appealing option for small businesses. The deadline for setting one up for this year is October 1, 2018.

The basics

SIMPLE stands for “savings incentive match plan for employees.” As the name implies, these plans are simple to set up and administer. Unlike 401(k) plans, SIMPLE IRAs don’t require annual filings or discrimination testing.

SIMPLE IRAs are available to businesses with 100 or fewer employees. Employers must contribute and employees have the option to contribute. The contributions are pretax, and accounts can grow tax-deferred like a traditional IRA or 401(k) plan, with distributions taxed when taken in retirement.

As the employer, you can choose from two contribution options:

1. Make a “nonelective” contribution equal to 2% of compensation for all eligible employees. You must make the contribution regardless of whether the employee contributes. This applies to compensation up to the annual limit of $275,000 for 2018 (annually adjusted for inflation).

2. Match employee contributions up to 3% of compensation. Here, you contribute only if the employee contributes. This isn’t subject to the annual compensation limit.

Employees are immediately 100% vested in all SIMPLE IRA contributions.

Employee contribution limits

Any employee who has compensation of at least $5,000 in any prior two years, and is reasonably expected to earn $5,000 in the current year, can elect to have a percentage of compensation put into a SIMPLE IRA.

SIMPLE IRAs offer greater income deferral opportunities than ordinary IRAs, but lower limits than 401(k)s. An employee may contribute up to $12,500 to a SIMPLE IRA in 2018. Employees age 50 or older can also make a catch-up contribution of up to $3,000. This compares to $5,500 and $1,000, respectively, for ordinary IRAs, and to $18,500 and $6,000 for 401(k)s. (Some or all of these limits may increase for 2019 under annual cost-of-living adjustments.)

You’ve got options

A SIMPLE IRA might be a good choice for your small business, but it isn’t the only option. The more-complex 401(k) plan we’ve already mentioned is one alternative. Some others are a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) and a defined-benefit pension plan. These two plans don’t allow employee contributions and have other pluses and minuses. Contact us to learn more about a SIMPLE IRA or to hear about other retirement plan alternatives for your business.

© 2018

Identifying and reporting critical audit matters

 

For over 40 years, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has required only a simple pass-fail statement in public companies’ audit reports. But the deadline for mandatory reporting of critical audit matters (CAMs) in audit reports is fast approaching. The revised model will provide insight to help investors and other stakeholders better understand a public company’s financial reporting practices — and help management reduce potential risks.

Deadlines

Under existing SEC standards, auditor communication of CAMs is permissible on a voluntary basis. However, disclosure of CAMs in audit reports will be required for audits of fiscal years ending on or after June 30, 2019, for large accelerated filers; and for fiscal years ending on or after December 15, 2020, for all other companies to which the requirement applies.

The new rule doesn’t apply to audits of emerging growth companies (EGCs), which are companies that have less than $1 billion in revenue and meet certain other requirements. This class of companies gets a host of regulatory breaks for five years after becoming public, under the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act.

Criteria

In 2017, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) published Release No. 2017-001, The Auditor’s Report on an Audit of Financial Statements When the Auditor Expresses an Unqualified Opinion and Related Amendments to PCAOB Standards. The main provision of the rule requires auditors to describe CAMs in their audit reports. These are issues that:

  • Have been communicated to the audit committee,
  • Are related to accounts or disclosures that are material to the financial statements, and
  • Involve especially challenging, subjective or complex judgments from the auditor.

By highlighting a CAM, an auditor is essentially saying that the matter requires closer attention. Examples might include complex valuations of indefinite-lived intangible assets, uncertain tax positions, goodwill impairment, and manual accounting processes that rely on spreadsheets, rather than automated accounting software.

New guidance

In July 2018, the Center for Audit Quality issued a 12-page guide on implementing the revised model of the auditor’s report. The guide instructs auditors to select CAMs based on:

  • The risks of material misstatement,
  • The degree of auditor judgment for areas such as management estimates,
  • Significant unusual transactions,
  • The degree of subjectivity for a certain matter, and
  • The evidence the auditor gathered during the review of the financial statements.

The guide doesn’t say how many CAMs are required in an audit report or provide a checklist of potential issues. Instead, CAMs will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Coming soon

PCAOB Chairman James Doty has promised that CAMs will “breathe life into the audit report and give investors the information they’ve been asking for from auditors.” By identifying CAMs on the face of the audit report, auditors highlight challenging, subjective or complex matters that also may warrant closer attention from management. For more information about CAMs, contact us.

© 2018

Use pay-ratio disclosures with caution

 

Starting in 2018, certain public companies must disclose the ratio of their CEO’s annual compensation to that of its “median employee.” The rule allows for significant flexibility in calculating these ratios, leading to widely divergent ratios within the same industry. Therefore, public companies and their investors should tread carefully before they rely on these metrics.

Complying with the rule

The pay-ratio disclosure rule applies to all U.S. public companies required to provide Summary Compensation Table disclosures. With limited exceptions, covered companies must disclose pay ratios in annual reports, on Form 10-K, in proxy and information statements, and in registration statements — if these filings require executive compensation disclosures.

The rule doesn’t apply to the following companies:

Smaller reporting companies (SRCs). The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted unanimously in June 2018 to increase the public float threshold for SRCs to $250 million.

Emerging growth companies (EGCs). This term generally refers to new public companies with gross revenues under $1 billion in the most recent fiscal year. (The SEC allows a transition period for newly public companies.)

The rule also exempts registered investment companies, foreign private issuers and Canadian companies filing in the United States pursuant to the Multijurisdictional Disclosure System.

Calculating pay ratios

The SEC allows significant leeway in calculating pay ratios to ease the burden of complying with the rule. Companies may choose a process that fits their structure and compensation programs. But they must disclose the methodology used to determine the median employee pay and the estimates used in calculating the pay ratio.

For example, a company could use a statistically representative sample of its workforce rather than the entire population. Or they could compare only base salary or W-2 wages, excluding from their computations bonuses, overtime, stock options and other forms of compensation.

Companies also aren’t required to calculate the exact compensation when identifying the median. Rather, the SEC lets them use “reasonable estimates.” In addition, the rule allows companies to exclude up to 5% of their non-U.S. workers and to adjust foreign pay to account for differences in the cost of living between regions.

As a result, the initial round of pay-ratio disclosures published in early 2018 vary widely. For example, a recent study found that ratios disclosed by companies in the financial services industry ranged from 1:1 to 1:429.

Comparing apples to oranges

Before relying on pay-ratio disclosures to evaluate compensation practices or cost efficiency, it’s important to compare a company’s process for calculating pay ratios to others used in the same industry. Contact us for more information about pay-ratio disclosures and how a company’s compensation practices measure up.

© 2018

It’s important to monitor your SEC filing status

 

As public companies grow, they may move from one filing status or issuer category to another. Recent and proposed changes to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules for some categories could affect your company’s financial reporting and audit procedures.

Categories of public companies

Under existing rules, public companies fall into different filing categories, based on their public “float” (the amount of shares available to the public for trading):

  • Smaller reporting companies (SRCs) are nonaccelerated filers that meet certain other requirements, including annual revenues under $50 million if their public float is zero.
  • Nonaccelerated filers have a public float of less than $75 million and aren’t otherwise required to accelerate their filing deadlines.
  • Accelerated filers have a public float between $75 million and $700 million and meet other requirements.
  • Large accelerated filers have a public float of more than $700 million and meet certain other requirements.

Finally, there’s the emerging growth company (EGC). Generally, an EGC is a new public company that has gross revenues under $1 billion in its most recent fiscal year and meets certain other requirements. EGCs enjoy a variety of benefits during their first five years of existence, including scaled-back disclosures and exemption from the auditor attestation of a company’s internal control over financial reporting as required by Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

A company that ceases to be an EGC must begin complying with Sec. 404(b), except for nonaccelerated filers, which are exempt from that requirement unless they become accelerated or large accelerated filers. (Congress currently is considering legislation that would extend the exemption for certain companies, however.)

Changes to public float thresholds

On June 28, 2018, the SEC voted unanimously to issue the final rule in Release No. 33-10513, Amendments to Smaller Reporting Company Definition. The rule increases the public float threshold for SRCs to $100 million and nonaccelerated filers to $250 million.

To complicate matters, the SEC did not make conforming changes to the definition of an accelerated filer. Rather, it eliminated the automatic exclusion of SRCs in the definitions of accelerated and large accelerated filers. As a result, a registrant could be both an SRC and an accelerated filer. As an accelerated filer, a company would still be required to comply with Sec. 404(b).

The new SEC rule will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, which normally occurs a few weeks after a rule is posted on the SEC’s website. The SEC said 966 additional companies will be eligible for smaller company status in the first year of the new threshold.

Annual assessment

Changes in filing status affect the form, content and timing of financial reports, as well as the extent of external audit procedures. So, it’s a good idea to re-evaluate your company’s status well before the end of each fiscal year. We can help you evaluate your filing status based on the SEC’s evolving guidelines. If a change is anticipated, we can help you prepare for new filing, disclosure and audit requirements.

© 2018

Auditing the use of estimates and specialists

 

Complex accounting estimates — such as allowances for doubtful accounts, impairments of long-lived assets, and valuations of financial and nonfinancial assets — have been blamed for many high-profile accounting scams and financial restatements. Estimates generally involve some level of measurement uncertainty, and some may even require the use of outside specialists, such as appraisers or engineers.

As a result, examining estimates is a critical part of an audit. Companies that understand the audit process are better equipped to facilitate audit fieldwork and can communicate more effectively with their auditors. Here’s what you need to know about auditing the use of estimates as we head into next audit season.

Audit techniques

Some estimates may be easily determinable, but many are inherently complex. Auditing standards generally provide the following three approaches for substantively testing accounting estimates and fair value measurements:

1. Testing management’s process. Auditors evaluate the reasonableness and consistency of management’s assumptions, as well as test whether the underlying data is complete, accurate and relevant.
2. Developing an independent estimate. Using management’s assumptions (or alternate assumptions), auditors come up with an estimate to compare to what’s reported on the internally prepared financial statements.
3. Reviewing subsequent events or transactions. The reasonableness of estimates can be gauged by looking at events or transactions that happen after the balance sheet date but before the date of the auditor’s report.

When performing an audit, all three approaches might not necessarily be appropriate for every estimate. For each estimate, the auditor typically selects one or a combination of these approaches.

Regulatory oversight

Accounting estimates have been on the agenda of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) since it was established by Congress under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Although the leadership of PCAOB changed hands in early 2018, proposals to enhance the auditing standards for the use of accounting estimates and the work of specialists remain top priorities.

Earlier this summer, Chairman William Duhnke told the PCAOB’s Standard Advisory Group (SAG) that he hopes to complete these projects in the coming months. The updated auditing standards would help reduce diversity in practice, provide more-specific direction and be better aligned with the risk assessment standards.

Prepare for next audit season

Improvements on the audit standards for the use of estimates and the work of specialists could be coming soon. As companies plan for next year’s audit, they should contact their audit partners for the latest developments on the standards for auditing the use of estimates and specialists to determine what (if anything) has changed.

We can help you understand how estimates and specialists are used in the preparation of your company’s financial statements and minimize the risk of financial misstatement.

© 2018

Hidden liabilities: What’s excluded from the balance sheet?

 

Financial statements help investors and lenders monitor a company’s performance. However, financial statements may not provide a full picture of financial health. What’s undisclosed could be just as significant as the disclosures. Here’s how a CPA can help stakeholders identify unrecorded items either through external auditing procedures or by conducting agreed upon procedures (AUPs) that target specific accounts.

Start with assets

Revealing undisclosed liabilities and risks begins with assets. For each asset, it’s important to evaluate what could cause the account to diminish. For example, accounts receivable may include bad debts, or inventory may include damaged goods. In addition, some fixed assets may be broken or in desperate need of repairs and maintenance. These items may signal financial distress and affect financial ratios just as much as unreported liabilities do.

Some of these problems may be uncovered by touring the company’s facilities or reviewing asset schedules for slow-moving items. Benchmarking can also help. For example, if receivables are growing much faster than sales, it could be a sign of aging, uncollectible accounts.

Evaluate liabilities

Next, external accountants can assess liabilities to determine whether the amount reported for each item seems accurate and complete. For example, a company may forget to accrue liabilities for salary or vacation time.

Alternatively, management might underreport payables by holding checks for weeks (or months) to make the company appear healthier than it really is. This ploy preserves the checking account while giving the impression that supplier invoices are being paid. It also mismatches revenues and expenses, understates liabilities and artificially enhances profits. Delayed payments can hurt the company’s reputation and cause suppliers to restrict their credit terms.

Identify unrecorded items

Finally, CPAs can investigate what isn’t showing on the balance sheet. Examples include warranties, pending lawsuits, IRS investigations and an underfunded pension. Such risks appear on the balance sheet only when they’re “reasonably estimable” and “more than likely” to be incurred.

These are subjective standards. In-house accounting personnel may claim that liabilities are too unpredictable or remote to warrant disclosure. Footnotes, when available, may shed additional light on the nature and extent of these contingent liabilities.

Need help?

An external audit is your best line of defense against hidden risks and potential liabilities. Or, if funds are limited, an AUP engagement can target specific high-risk accounts or transactions. Contact our experienced CPAs to gain a clearer picture of your company’s financial well-being.

© 2018