For years, users of financial statements, academics, and standards setters alike have criticized the lease accounting standards as unnecessarily complex and ineffective in portraying liabilities arising from lease contracts in the balance sheets of lessee enterprises. Recognizing that current standards were adopted before the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and other standard‐setting bodies completed their conceptual framework projects, critics of the lease accounting standards contend that the principal defect in existing standards is that they are at variance with the definitions of assets and liabilities in those frameworks. Some, including the Chairman and several other charter members of the newly formed International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), have called for new lease accounting standards anchored securely in the framework definitions of assets and liabilities. There is not universal agreement, however, on exactly what assets and liabilities result from applying these definitions to a lease contract. For companies that lease a significant amount of physical plant, financial statements produced under the two alternative interpretations explored in this paper are radically different.

This paper proposes a decision model for choosing between two alternative interpretations of the definitions of assets and liabilities in a leasing context, illustrates the effects on the basic financial statements of a lessee enterprise of applying these two alternative interpretations, and evaluates the results using the proposed decision model.

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