Summary of Interpretation No. 46

Consolidation of Variable Interest Entities—an interpretation of ARB No. 51

Summary

This Interpretation of Accounting Research Bulletin No. 51, Consolidated Financial Statements, addresses consolidation by business enterprises of variable interest entities,* which have one or both of the following characteristics:

  1. The equity investment at risk is not sufficient to permit the entity to finance its activities without additional subordinated financial support from other parties, which is provided through other interests that will absorb some or all of the expected losses of the entity.
  2. The equity investors lack one or more of the following essential characteristics of a controlling financial interest:
    1. The direct or indirect ability to make decisions about the entity's activities through voting rights or similar rights
    2. The obligation to absorb the expected losses of the entity if they occur, which makes it possible for the entity to finance its activities
    3. The right to receive the expected residual returns of the entity if they occur, which is the compensation for the risk of absorbing the expected losses.

The following are exceptions to the scope of this Interpretation:

  1. Not-for-profit organizations are not subject to this Interpretation unless they are used by business enterprises in an attempt to circumvent the provisions of this Interpretation.
  2. Employee benefit plans subject to specific accounting requirements in existing FASB Statements are not subject to this Interpretation.
  3. Registered investment companies are not required to consolidate a variable interest entity unless the variable interest entity is a registered investment company.
  4. Transferors to qualifying special-purpose entities and "grandfathered" qualifying special-purpose entities subject to the reporting requirements of FASB Statement No. 140, Accounting for Transfers and Servicing of Financial Assets and Extinguishments of Liabilities, do not consolidate those entities.
  5. No other enterprise consolidates a qualifying special-purpose entity or a "grandfathered" qualifying special-purpose entity unless the enterprise has the unilateral ability to cause the entity to liquidate or to change the entity in such a way that it no longer meets the requirements to be a qualifying special-purpose entity or "grandfathered" qualifying special-purpose entity.
  6. Separate accounts of life insurance enterprises as described in the AICPA Auditing and Accounting Guide, Life and Health Insurance Entities, are not subject to this Interpretation.

Reason for Issuing This Interpretation

Transactions involving variable interest entities have become increasingly common, and the relevant accounting literature is fragmented and incomplete. ARB 51 requires that an enterprise's consolidated financial statements include subsidiaries in which the enterprise has a controlling financial interest. That requirement usually has been applied to subsidiaries in which an enterprise has a majority voting interest, but in many circumstances the enterprise's consolidated financial statements do not include variable interest entities with which it has similar relationships. The voting interest approach is not effective in identifying controlling financial interests in entities that are not controllable through voting interests or in which the equity investors do not bear the residual economic risks.

The objective of this Interpretation is not to restrict the use of variable interest entities but to improve financial reporting by enterprises involved with variable interest entities. The Board believes that if a business enterprise has a controlling financial interest in a variable interest entity, the assets, liabilities, and results of the activities of the variable interest entity should be included in consolidated financial statements with those of the business enterprise.

Differences between This Interpretation and Current Practice

Under current practice, two enterprises generally have been included in consolidated financial statements because one enterprise controls the other through voting interests. This Interpretation explains how to identify variable interest entities and how an enterprise assesses its interests in a variable interest entity to decide whether to consolidate that entity. This Interpretation requires existing unconsolidated variable interest entities to be consolidated by their primary beneficiaries if the entities do not effectively disperse risks among parties involved. Variable interest entities that effectively disperse risks will not be consolidated unless a single party holds an interest or combination of interests that effectively recombines risks that were previously dispersed.

An enterprise that consolidates a variable interest entity is the primary beneficiary of the variable interest entity. The primary beneficiary of a variable interest entity is the party that absorbs a majority of the entity's expected losses, receives a majority of its expected residual returns, or both, as a result of holding variable interests, which are the ownership, contractual, or other pecuniary interests in an entity. The ability to make decisions is not a variable interest, but it is an indication that the decision maker should carefully consider whether it holds sufficient variable interests to be the primary beneficiary. An enterprise with a variable interest in a variable interest entity must consider variable interests of related parties and de facto agents as its own in determining whether it is the primary beneficiary of the entity.

Assets, liabilities, and noncontrolling interests of newly consolidated variable interest entities generally will be initially measured at their fair values except for assets and liabilities transferred to a variable interest entity by its primary beneficiary, which will continue to be measured as if they had not been transferred. If recognizing those assets, liabilities, and noncontrolling interests at their fair values results in a loss to the consolidated enterprise, that loss will be reported immediately as an extraordinary item. If recognizing those assets, liabilities, and noncontrolling interests at their fair values would result in a gain to the consolidated enterprise, that amount will be allocated to reduce the amounts assigned to assets in the same manner as if consolidation resulted from a business combination. However, assets, liabilities, and noncontrolling interests of newly consolidated variable interest entities that are under common control with the primary beneficiary are measured at the amounts at which they are carried in the consolidated financial statements of the enterprise that controls them (or would be carried if the controlling entity prepared financial statements) at the date the enterprise becomes the primary beneficiary. After initial measurement, the assets, liabilities, and noncontrolling interests of a consolidated variable interest entity will be accounted for as if the entity were consolidated based on voting interests. In some circumstances, earnings of the variable interest entity attributed to the primary beneficiary arise from sources other than investments in equity of the entity.

An enterprise that holds significant variable interests in a variable interest entity but is not the primary beneficiary is required to disclose (1) the nature, purpose, size, and activities of the variable interest entity, (2) its exposure to loss as a result of the variable interest holder's involvement with the entity, and (3) the nature of its involvement with the entity and date when the involvement began. The primary beneficiary of a variable interest entity is required to disclose (a) the nature, purpose, size, and activities of the variable interest entity, (b) the carrying amount and classification of consolidated assets that are collateral for the variable interest entity's obligations, and (c) any lack of recourse by creditors (or beneficial interest holders) of a consolidated variable interest entity to the general credit of the primary beneficiary.

How This Interpretation Will Improve Financial Reporting

This Interpretation is intended to achieve more consistent application of consolidation policies to variable interest entities and, thus, to improve comparability between enterprises engaged in similar activities even if some of those activities are conducted through variable interest entities. Including the assets, liabilities, and results of activities of variable interest entities in the consolidated financial statements of their primary beneficiaries will provide more complete information about the resources, obligations, risks, and opportunities of the consolidated enterprise. Disclosures about variable interest entities in which an enterprise has a significant variable interest but does not consolidate will help financial statement users assess the enterprise's risks.

How the Conclusions in This Interpretation Relate to the Conceptual Framework

FASB Concepts Statement No. 1, Objectives of Financial Reporting by Business Enterprises, states that financial reporting should provide information that is useful in making business and economic decisions. Including variable interest entities in consolidated financial statements with the primary beneficiary will help achieve that objective by providing information that helps in assessing the amounts, timing, and uncertainty of prospective net cash flows of the consolidated entity.

Completeness is identified in FASB Concepts Statement No. 2, Qualitative Characteristics of Accounting Information, as an essential element of representational faithfulness and relevance. Thus, to faithfully represent the total assets that an enterprise controls and liabilities for which an enterprise is responsible, assets and liabilities of variable interest entities for which the enterprise is the primary beneficiary must be included in the enterprise's consolidated financial statements.

FASB Concepts Statement No. 6, Elements of Financial Statements, defines assets, in part, as probable future economic benefits obtained or controlled by a particular entity and defines liabilities, in part, as obligations of a particular entity to make probable future sacrifices of economic benefits. The relationship between a variable interest entity and its primary beneficiary results in control by the primary beneficiary of future benefits from the assets of the variable interest entity even though the primary beneficiary may not have the direct ability to make decisions about the uses of the assets. Because the liabilities of the variable interest entity will require sacrificing consolidated assets, those liabilities are obligations of the primary beneficiary even though the creditors of the variable interest entity may have no recourse to the general credit of the primary beneficiary.

The Effective Date of This Interpretation

This Interpretation applies immediately to variable interest entities created after January 31, 2003, and to variable interest entities in which an enterprise obtains an interest after that date. It applies in the first fiscal year or interim period beginning after June 15, 2003, to variable interest entities in which an enterprise holds a variable interest that it acquired before February 1, 2003. The Interpretation applies to public enterprises as of the beginning of the applicable interim or annual period, and it applies to nonpublic enterprises as of the end of the applicable annual period.

This Interpretation may be applied prospectively with a cumulative-effect adjustment as of the date on which it is first applied or by restating previously issued financial statements for one or more years with a cumulative-effect adjustment as of the beginning of the first year restated.