SYNOPSIS

Accounting for corporate leasing activities has been examined and debated for more than 30 years. Currently both the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) are developing standards to modify financial reporting for operating leases, which are currently reported off-balance sheet. In light of these proposals, we examine existing literature to better anticipate possible effects of any changes. Namely, we review existing studies to understand why firms engage in operating leases and how information about these arrangements impacts users. First, we review studies directly examining leases. As that review reports, some studies show that companies engage in off-balance sheet leasing at least in part to manage financial statement presentation. Other studies, however, suggest that firms utilize operating leases to manage costs and preserve capital. In general, the research reports that lenders, credit rating agencies, and other capital market participants sufficiently understand off-balance sheet leases and consider them in their decision making. Second, we provide commentary on one of the current proposals' more debated areas and a current point of FASB and IASB divergence: classification of expenses associated with operating leases. While the IASB proposes disaggregating interest and amortization elements, the FASB proposes reporting a single, combined lease expense. However, very little research explicitly addresses expenses associated with operating leases. Existing studies do, however, suggest that information disaggregation, particularly with regard to operating and financing activities, is important. Our review may be useful to regulators as the reporting standards for operating leases are debated.

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