Commentary
CO-WRITTEN / PARTNER | Staff Reporter, Australia
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Retailers set for more change and rising liability levels with new accounting standards

Authored by Simon Fonteyn, managing director of Leasing Information Systems.

As if retail tenants do not have enough concerns in this ever-changing landscape with consumer spending decreasing, top brands collapsing, online retailing continuing to grow in popularity and the implications of the entry of Amazon and other international mega-retailers into the Australian space. They now need to prepare for a new global accounting standard, set to turn their balance sheets, systems and processes upside down and dramatically increase their liabilities.

A new global accounting standard, known as IFRS16, will come into effect in Australia on 1 January 2019 and radically change the way leases are recognised in financial statements with a range of ramifications for the retail sector.

Besides a whole lot of additional paperwork, administration and new systems required for retail tenants to comply with this new standard, there will be farreaching implications in relation to loans and finance with leases over one year in length to be recorded on the balance sheet as a liability.

The major changes that will be introduced as part of IFRS16 require a retailer to recognise a “right of use” asset and liability equal to the present value of all future known occupancy costs, less any lease incentives.

The asset could also recognise indirect lease costs such as leasing fees, design fees, surveys and any estimated make good obligations.

Options on leases can also be included, if there is reasonable certainty that option terms will be exercised. This will require either a valuation or management to justify a valuation using current lease evidence of comparable rental amount.

For retailers, the liability implications of IFRS16 are far-reaching and will hit hard, causing rising debt levels which will require all retailers at best to renegotiate their debt covenants with their financiers.

A recent PriceWaterhouse Coopers global study revealed that the retail sector will be one of the industries hardest hit and estimated there will be a 90 per cent increase in debt for all retailers, with a 41 per cent increase in EBITDA as a direct result of the implementation of this new accounting standard.

This significant blanket increase will result from the lease liability, with 95% per cent of all retailers in leased premises.

Similarly, the increase in EBITDA will stem from the fact that rental expenses, which typically represent between 5 to 30 per cent of a retailers P&L cost, will disappear and be replaced with amortisation and interest expenses of the liability, which are excluded from EBITDA.

Retailers need to start to prepare for these changes now and implement lease management systems to capture rental data that can value their lease portfolio on a continual basis. Or they face a real nightmare in 2019.

The new accounting standard will come as a shock to many retailers who are not prepared, when it quietly comes into play in January 2019. It will create yet another financial obstacle for the dynamic retail sector, which is constantly evolving and battling the impacts of technology and changes to consumer spending patterns. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by QSR Media. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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