The economic impact from the COVID-19 pandemic has been swift and unexpected. Just a few short weeks ago, the S&P 500 was at an all-time high and goodwill impairments were not a serious concern for most companies. However, between mid-February and the end of March, the S&P 500 declined by 25%. The Russell 2000 fell nearly 32% over the same period, and the negative shock to certain companies and sectors has been much worse.

Most financial professionals understand that goodwill impairment testing is typically performed annually, usually near the end of a Company’s fiscal year. In fact, many companies just completed an impairment test as of year-end 2019. But the unprecedented events precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic now raise questions about whether an interim goodwill impairment test is warranted.

Do I need an Impairment Test?

The accounting guidance in ASC 350 prescribes that interim goodwill impairment tests may be necessary in the case of certain “triggering” events. For public companies, perhaps the most easily observable triggering event is a decline in stock price, but other factors may constitute a triggering event. Further, these factors apply to both public and private companies, even those private companies that have previously elected to amortize goodwill under ASU 2017-04.

For interim goodwill impairment tests, ASC 350 notes that entities should assess relevant events and circumstances that might make it more likely than not that an impairment condition exists. The guidance provides several examples, including the following:

  • Changes in the macroeconomic environment, such as a deterioration in general economic conditions
  • Limitations on accessing capital, fluctuations in foreign exchange rates, or other developments in equity and credit markets
  • Industry and market considerations such as a deterioration in the environment in which an entity operates or an increased competitive environment
  • Declines in market-dependent multiples or metrics (consider in both absolute terms and relative to peers)
  • Changes in the market for an entity’s products or services, or a regulatory or political development
  • Cost factor considerations such as increases in raw materials, labor, or other costs that have a negative effect on earnings and cash flows
  • Overall financial performance such as negative or declining cash flows or a decline in actual or planned revenue or earnings compared with actual and projected results of relevant prior periods
  • Entity-specific events (changes in management or key customers, contemplation of bankruptcy, adverse litigation or regulatory events)
  • Changes in the carrying amount of assets at the reporting unit including the expectation of selling or disposing certain assets
  • If applicable, a sustained decrease in share price (considered both in absolute terms and relative to peers)

The examples above are not all-inclusive and entities should consider other relevant events and circumstances that might affect the fair value or carrying amount of a reporting unit. An entity should place more weight on the events and circumstances that most affect a reporting unit’s fair value or the carrying amount of its net assets. The guidance notes that an entity should also consider positive and mitigating events and circumstances that may affect its conclusion. If a recent impairment test has been performed, the headroom between the recent fair value measurement and carrying amount could also be a factor to consider.

How an Impairment Test Works

Once an entity determines that an interim impairment test is appropriate, a quantitative “Step 1” impairment test is required. Under Step 1, the entity must measure the fair value of the relevant reporting units (or the entire company if the business is defined as a single reporting unit). The fair value of a reporting unit refers to “the price that would be received to sell the unit as a whole in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date.”

For companies that have already adopted ASU 2017-04, the legacy “Step 2” analysis has been eliminated, and the impairment charge is calculated as simply the difference between fair value and carrying amount. Under the old framework, an additional “Step 2” analysis was performed and the impairment charge was based on the amount by which carrying amount exceeded the implied value of goodwill.

ASC 820 provides a framework for measuring fair value which recognizes the three traditional valuation approaches: the income approach, the market approach, and the cost approach. As with most valuation assignments, judgment is required to determine which approach or approaches are most appropriate given the facts and circumstances. In our experience, the income and market approaches are most commonly used in goodwill impairment testing. In the current environment, we offer the following thoughts on some areas that are likely to draw additional scrutiny from auditors and regulators.

  • Are the financial projections used in a discounted cash flow analysis reflective of recent market conditions? What are the model’s sensitivities to changes in key inputs?
  • Given developments in the market, do measures of risk (discount rates) need to be updated?
  • If market multiples from comparable companies are used to support the valuation, are those multiples still applicable and meaningful in the current environment?
  • If precedent M&A transactions are used to support the valuation, are those multiples still relevant in the current environment?
  • If the subject company is public, how does its current market capitalization compare to the indicated fair value of the entity (or sum of the reporting units)? What is the implied control premium and is it reasonable in light of current market conditions?

At a minimum, we anticipate that additional analyses and support will be necessary to address these questions. The documentation from an impairment test at December 31, 2019 might provide a starting point, but the reality is that the economic landscape has changed significantly in the last three months.

Concluding Thoughts

Not all industries have been impacted in the same way and there will certainly be differences between companies. For public companies, it can be difficult to ignore the significant drop in stock prices and the implications that this might have on fair value. For private businesses, even if a triggering event has not arisen yet, the deteriorating economic environment may just push the triggering factors into the second or third quarter of the year.

At Mercer Capital, we have experience in implementing both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of interim goodwill impairment testing. To discuss the implications and timing of triggering events, please contact a professional in Mercer Capital’s Financial Statement Reporting Group.


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